McConnell sides with White House with his vote on spending bills

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sided with the White House on Thursday when he voted to advance next year's budget bills based on last August’s debt-ceiling deal.

His vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee puts the GOP leader on the opposite side of the issue from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his conference.

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The committee met to divide up the $1.047 trillion allocated to discretionary spending under the debt deal — $19 billion more than allowed under the House-passed budget that Boehner supported.

House and Senate appropriators had warned that by that by tampering with August's Budget Control Act and insisting on deeper cuts next year, House conservatives were risking a government shutdown confrontation with the White House.

On Wednesday, the White House stated for the first time that President Obama would not sign any appropriations bills until the House abandoned the level set in the House-passed budget proposal authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and embraced the Budget Control Act.

McConnell cast his vote in absentia on Thursday.

His office noted the leader has said the Budget Control Act numbers are just ceilings, not floors, and he would work to cut spending going forward.

McConnell was the key deal-maker in avoiding a debt-ceiling crisis last summer. He will likely be just a central as the House and Senate try to reconcile differing spending bills this fall.

He was joined by most of the Republicans on the committee and all Democrats in advancing the spending levels to be used to construct the 12 annual appropriations bills.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) voted against the allocations.

Johnson, a Tea Party favorite who failed in his bid to join the Senate leadership this year, defended his vote as a principled cry for the upper chamber to pass a budget resolution this year.

“This vote to limit spending is in no way showboating,” he declared after Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) suggested that the Appropriations Committee is right to put partisan wrangling aside and prepare spending bills to keep the government open after Sept. 30.

Top Senate Democrats on Thursday suggested the move by McConnell and others was a sign that the Senate GOP was moving away from their House colleagues and the Ryan budget.

“The Senate Republicans over the last several months have been showing a desire to reach out and work with us. And I think that’s very healthy for the country,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) told reporters.

“I hope that they can persuade their House members, and their colleagues over there, to come to their senses and come back to the deal that we made last August instead of threatening us with another government shutdown,” Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) said.

The committee also approved the Transportation and Housing bill and the Commerce, Justice, and Science bill with McConnell's support.

— Bernie Becker contributed.

— This post was last updated at 1:04 p.m.