McConnell urges GOP unity in budget talks

Greg Nash

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) addressed a private meeting of the House GOP on Tuesday in an effort to make sure the party is united as they prepare for the next round of budget fights.

Amid pessimism that a House-Senate conference committee will strike a budget deal, McConnell urged House Republicans to stick to spending caps in the Budget Control Act in the face of Democratic demands for higher spending and more taxes.

Tensions among Republicans in the House and Senate undermined the party in the last budget fight that led to a 16-day government shutdown. McConnell alluded to a long history of disagreements between party caucuses in the two chambers, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

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“We kind of reconnected on communications, to be sure that House Republicans and Senate Republicans are on the same page … to reassert that we have a good relationship and we’ll continue to communicate,” Fleming said.

McConnell, who faces a tough reelection bid next year, also emphasized the need for a Republican majority in the Senate for the party — with him as majority leader – to be able to accomplish its budget goals.

Republicans want to restore steep budget cuts slated to hit the military next year, but Fleming said they would not do so if it means higher taxes or increases in domestic spending above the established budget cap.

“We’re just going to have to live under the budget caps as they are, suffer the military situation as it is, until such time as we can return to regular order in our appropriations and our budgeting,” he said.

A McConnell spokesman, Don Stewart, said only that the leader appreciated the opportunity to speak to the House Republicans.

“He provided an update on the Senate and had a chance to hear directly from his House colleagues,” Stewart said.

The budget conference committee has until Dec. 13 to strike a deal, and government funding runs out on Jan. 15. House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee have called on the panel to agree to a top-line budget number quickly so they can get to work writing spending bills.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Tuesday he understood the appropriators’ “frustration,” but he deferred to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairmen of the panel, as to whether they could agree on a spending level.

 “I’m hopeful that there will be a number, but you’ll have to talk to Paul Ryan and Sen. Murray about that,” Boehner said.