Reid holds the line on spending

Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will likely accept the government funding levels passed by House Republicans last week.

Reid’s expected move could pave the way for a bipartisan agreement that would avert a government shutdown. But it could also spark loud protests from House Democrats and liberal groups.

By accepting the funding number set by House Republicans, Reid has given the GOP some political cover — if they drop their ObamaCare defunding demands, that is.

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Some of the left will cry foul because the funding measure passed by the GOP-led House continues the controversial sequester. Progressive groups and labor unions expressed dismay Monday over the House’s $986.3 billion funding bill.

They hope Reid and Senate Democrats will argue in the weeks ahead that federal spending levels should be increased in the next round of budget talks. 

A senior Democratic aide said Reid will likely accept the funding level embraced by House Republicans, which continues spending at current levels.

“I would imagine yes,” said the aide.

Another Democratic aide said, “That seems to be almost 100 percent.”

Reid does not want to give House Republicans any additional excuse to reject the stopgap measure he plans to return to the lower chamber, stripped of language defunding the Affordable Care Act.

A Reid spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

House defeat of any Senate-passed funding resolution passed back across the Capitol would make a government shutdown all but inevitable.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are split on how to proceed. For procedural reasons, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has urged his colleagues to filibuster the House-passed bill — even though he supports it.

On Monday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) indicated he would not block the bill from coming to a final vote.

Senate aides say it could take the upper chamber until Sunday to overcome all the required procedural hurdles to amend the legislation and return it to the House, leaving too little time for additional changes. A deal must be struck by Monday or the government will shut down.

By acquiescing on the funding level, Reid will let Republicans claim a measure of victory — perhaps enough to persuade Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to let the Senate-amended legislation come to a vote.

“While we believe there are smarter, better spending cuts than the sequester that President Obama designed and insisted on, locking in a lower level of spending is clearly a good thing,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman.

House Republicans can argue next week that they did everything possible to defund ObamaCare but that Senate Republicans failed to stay unified enough to block Reid from stripping out the language.

The silver lining for Republicans is that current spending levels are kept in place despite pressure from liberal special interest groups.

House Democratic leaders have panned the $986.3 funding level set by the GOP and pledged to vote against it.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said last week he would not support a continuing resolution at $986.3 billion because it “continues the lunacy” of spending levels “that are killing jobs.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) last week said, “I am not going to vote to continue the sequester. I believe it is inimical to the interests of the United States of America — to our government, to our economy and to our national security.”

Hoyer has also put the White House on notice, urging the president not to sign a bill that adheres to the sequester.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week said, “We’ll see when it comes back [from the Senate], but right now the mood is not favorable to a 986 number.”

The AFL-CIO sent a letter to House lawmakers Friday criticizing the spending level adopted by the lower chamber.

“[The House measure] would harm the economy not only by provoking a government shutdown but also by continuing the job-killing sequestration cuts through Dec. 15,” wrote William Samuel, director of the union’s government affairs department. “It would fund the government at the sequestration level of $986.3 billion, rather than the Budget Control Act (BCA) capped level of $1.058 trillion.”

“Congress shouldn’t pass a resolution that even for a short time bakes in more sequestration that harms the economy,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign For America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group.

Hickey warned that spending levels even in temporary funding measures “have a way of becoming more permanent.”

Mike Lux, a strategist who works with progressive groups, said the current funding levels hurt essential social programs: “There’s not enough investment in people.”

Some Senate aides and outside groups say the funding level in the continuing resolution is more important from a political messaging than an actual policy-setting standpoint because the 2011 Budget Control Act puts a cap on fiscal 2014 spending.

The 2011 budget act and sequestration limits funding for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, at $967 billion.

If funding in the continuing resolution covering October, November and part of December receives an increase, the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration would — by law — have to cut more over the next nine months to meet the cap.

“The level we want is $1.058 trillion. But as long as sequestration is in effect, it doesn’t matter what we want and what is best for the economy,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“We’ll end up with the contours of the BCA and sequestration,” she added.

Some Democrats and liberal groups, however, see a political advantage in boosting the funding level in the continuing resolution for the rest of this year. They see congressional approval of a higher number as an acknowledgement that federal funding must be increased above the level mandated by sequestration.

“We’re going to try to get as high a CR level as we can get,” Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, said at a press conference with other Senate Democrats.  

“We think it should be higher than the [$986 billion] level, absolutely. But we’re not going to have a negotiation that deals with extraneous issues,” he added. “We’re going to negotiate to get as a high a level as possible.” 

Democrats are confident if House Republicans quash a “clean” funding bill it will hurt them politically.

Kevin Bogardus contributed.