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Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth Weighs In On Trump's Proposed Budget, Democrats' Plan


For those of you keeping track at home, the White House released its 2020 budget yesterday. It includes big cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. It includes big money - $8.6 billion for a border wall. It is titled A Budget for a Better America. Well, Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth has another title for it. He calls it A Recipe for American Decline. That was part of his opening statement at today's hearing before the House Budget Committee, which he chairs.

Congressman, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JOHN YARMUTH: Thank you, Mary Louise. Good to be with you.

KELLY: Good to have you with us. So I have to start here. It won't be lost on anyone that you are criticizing the president's budget when Democrats have not managed to put your own budget forward yet. How come?

YARMUTH: Well, we're still working on one. We have a very diverse caucus, and we're trying to put together a budget resolution that not only expresses our values and priorities but also can get 218 votes on the House floor, which is not going to be an easy task because we can only lose 17 votes. So there's a practicality to this, a political reality. But I think the one thing that we will continue to stress is that there is very little difference among the members of the Democratic caucus as to our values. And those values were definitely not reflected in the president's budget.

KELLY: You're saying very little differences on the values but a lot of differences on the policies and initiatives that Democrats - I mean, just set aside Republicans for the moment - but that Democrats would like to see in a budget. How hard is it? Give me a sense of how hard it's going to be to get all of your members on the same page for a budget. I'm thinking if you include items that progressive members of Congress want, like a Green New Deal or "Medicare for All," you're going to lose moderate votes and vice versa.

YARMUTH: Well, the biggest problem we have is not so much with those because in putting get together a budget resolution, we really would never presume to know exactly what health care reforms we would do or what we might do in the area of climate change.

KELLY: But when you say you're not sure you can get 218 votes for anything, what's this big challenge?

YARMUTH: Well, one of the...

KELLY: What's the stumbling block?

YARMUTH: Well, one of the things that - in trying to get votes for past Democratic budgets, is how many of our members would go along with revenue increases. Our budget resolution that we've put forward in past years has had significant revenue increases, and we have our more conservative members who don't want to vote for anything that has a revenue increase, which would be essentially a tax increase. So that's one end of the problem. The other end of the problem is we have members who want to drastically cut defense spending or significantly cut defense spending and others who don't. So it's a very thin road to try and trespass.

KELLY: Yeah - or say.



KELLY: I mean, there is an irony here, right? Democrats were not holding back on criticizing Republicans when they were in power for failing to put a budget on the floor. And here we are.

YARMUTH: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, doing a budget resolution is not easy. The reality is that there hasn't been a budget resolution passed by the House and the Senate basically since I've been here except for a - a very slim - what we call a skinny budget which allowed - this gets a little bit in the weeds - but allowed a reconciliation motion, a provision that allowed them to pass tax reform, Republicans, with 51 votes in the Senate. So there really hasn't been a comprehensive budget resolution passed by the House and the Senate in a long time. And so what - most of the budgeting is actually done in the appropriations committee by the appropriators...

KELLY: Yeah.

YARMUTH: ...And then through the floor. And of course we've been dealing with problems there, too, in getting agreement. And we've been dealing with continuing resolutions time after time after time.

KELLY: Just a few seconds left, Congressman, but does this speak broadly to how broken the federal budget process is?

YARMUTH: Well, last year, I spent most of the year along with 15 of my colleagues in the House and Senate considering budget reform and appropriations reform. We were not able to reach consensus on any resolution that we could bring to the floor to change the process. But we all recognize that it's broken, and we're going to continue to work to see if there's a better way we can do it to bring some more systematic and rational thought to the process.

KELLY: Thank you, Congressman.

YARMUTH: You're welcome.

KELLY: That is Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth. He is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.