McConnell tries to lower GOP expectations on spending

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: Trump's race politics will destroy GOP Rank-and-file Republicans fear lame-duck vote on pricey funding bill Clinton, Trump sharpen attacks MORE acknowledged Wednesday that he and the House Speaker are discussing a short-term government funding bill to avoid a shutdown on Oct. 1.

McConnell (R-Ky.) also warned his GOP colleagues that they are almost certainly going to have to accept spending levels above those in the 2011 Budget Control Act that introduced the sequester, the series of automatic cuts and ceilings meant to restrain federal spending.

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The GOP leader blamed Democrats for not allowing Republicans to move forward on any appropriations bills, which he said had delayed any progress.

“And so we are inevitably going to end up in a negotiation that will crack the Budget Control Act once again,” McConnell said.

“There’s a lot of pressure in Congress to spend more,” he added. “The administration certainly wants to spend more, and the president, of course, is in a key position to determine whether any of these bills, should he get them, become laws, so we’ll end up in the negotiation that I just described.”

GOP lawmakers are running out of time to avoid a shutdown, and are facing pressure from House conservatives who say they’ll object to any funding measure that includes money for Planned Parenthood, the healthcare provider that provides abortion services.

McConnell has repeatedly criticized Republicans who want to link government funding to the Planned Parenthood fight, and he won support from his position on Wednesday from two sources.

Rep. Tom McClintock resigned from the House Freedom Caucus, criticizing its tactics for repeatedly undermining the GOP leadership. McClintock was critical of conservatives who sought to hold back funding for the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year, and he also hammered them over their position of holding government funding hostage over Planned Parenthood.

“I feel that the HFC’s many missteps have made it counterproductive to its stated goals and I no longer wish to be associated with it,” the California Republican said.

Separately, National Right to Life Committee President Carol Tobias came to McConnell’s aid, telling The New York Times: “I don’t know that any government shutdown could accomplish what we want.” 

Democrats have won leverage from the internal GOP bickering in the House, and are also seeking to turn up the heat.

President Obama waded into the fight on Wednesday, warning Republicans that they were playing “chicken” with the economy. Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidNo, Tim Kaine is not the most liberal member of Congress Reid requests FBI probe into Russia 'tampering' in US election Dems' Florida Senate primary nears its bitter end MORE (Nev.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) will meet at the White House on Thursday with Obama to hammer out their strategy.

Congress must reach a deal on short-term spending before Oct. 1 to prevent a shutdown. The discussions McConnell and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRank-and-file Republicans fear lame-duck vote on pricey funding bill New Trump campaign boss took shots at Ryan on radio show Election reveals Paul Ryan to be worst speaker in U.S. history MORE (R-Ohio) are holding are expected to include a measure lasting a short number of weeks or months to buy time for Congress to work out a deal funding the government through the rest of fiscal 2016.

Obama and Democrats say spending levels should exceed the 2011 budget deal’s ceilings. Many Republicans are willing to raise defense spending, but they do not want to hike social spending, creating a dilemma for McConnell.

His efforts are also complicated by BoehnerJohn BoehnerRank-and-file Republicans fear lame-duck vote on pricey funding bill New Trump campaign boss took shots at Ryan on radio show Election reveals Paul Ryan to be worst speaker in U.S. history MORE’s political weakness. The Speaker is dealing with rebels who have threatened to force a vote on ending his Speakership. A deal with Democrats on spending or on a measure that does not block Planned Parenthood’s funding could be the trigger they’d need to go forward.

The Senate GOP leader said Wednesday there’s no chance Obama will sign a bill that defunds the family-planning-services group.

“If you shut down the government you will not defund Planned Parenthood. It will not happen,” he said.

Pelosi wants Republicans to agree upfront to higher spending targets that would boost non-defense programs along with defense programs for fiscal year 2016. 

That proposal rankles Republicans — including McConnell — who view the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act as the biggest fiscal achievement of the past seven years.

McConnell said the Budget Control Act “did a pretty good job” of restraining spending until it was revisited through a two-year budget deal crafted in 2012.

“We reduced government spending for the first time — for two years in a row for the first time since right after the Korean War. And so if the goal was to reduce government spending, it worked pretty well,” said the majority leader, who is expected to highlight the 2011 law as a reason why voters should keep the GOP in control of the Senate next year.

McConnell and Reid agree Congress should pass a clean short-term funding resolution stripped of Planned Parenthood language and other policy riders, but Boehner has yet to announce if he’s on the same page.

The two leaders are negotiating which chamber should move first and whether the stopgap should include language advancing conservative policy goals, which would likely spark a Democratic backlash.

“We’re in discussion with the House about how to go forward on that,” McConnell told reporters. “It is my hope that we will end up having a continuing resolution into later this year, which will give time for us to engage with the administration in determining how much we’re going to spend and where we’re going to spend it.”

 Some Senate Republicans think the best option is to wait until the last minute and send over a clean stopgap funding measure to the House, leaving lawmakers little choice but to accept it or risk a public relations disaster.

“I think it’s leverage. It’s a deadline and you got to meet the deadline or the government shuts down. Pressure on everybody,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “I don’t know anybody that’s thought about things thoroughly who wants to shut the government down.”

McConnell is planning a vote next week on anti-abortion-rights legislation, and then Congress will be off next Wednesday in observance of Yom Kippur. Then on Thursday Pope Francis will address lawmakers — meaning the stopgap funding measure will likely wait until only a few days before the Sept. 30 deadline.

McConnell said no final decisions have been made about what the continuing resolution will look like or where it will originate.