McConnell tries to sway House conservatives on budget deal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.) is privately urging House Republicans to unite behind a budget resolution and end the lower chamber’s weeks-long impasse over $30 billion in spending.

In a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, McConnell told House Republicans to stand by last fall’s accord with President Obama, which would increase federal spending to $1.07 trillion. 

McConnell, joined by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee and once worked on the House Budget Committee, argued that passing a House budget quickly would allow both chambers to begin drafting yearly spending bills ahead of this summer’s deadline.

But, as House Budget Committee member Dave Brat (R-Va.) said after the meeting Tuesday, “That’s a problem in the House.”

McConnell’s argument didn’t appear to sway the party’s fiscal hawks, who have opposed those spending levels unless GOP leaders have a firm commitment to cut $30 billion in spending elsewhere.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Tuesday he hasn’t changed his tune on seeking a lower spending cap.

“It doesn’t change the overall facts of where we’re at,” Jordan said, citing the rising federal deficit. “We’ve been very clear.”

GOP fiscal hawks, many of whom belong to the conservative Freedom Caucus, have made clear that they want promises in writing to offset the new spending, either through separate bills on the House floor or through the appropriations process.

“My skepticism [on passing a budget] is entirely, positively related to the amount they’ll put down on paper,” Brat said.

The House Budget Committee has delayed presenting a plan to the conference, though a proposal is expected to be laid out this week. Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has previously said he would stick by last fall’s deal between Obama and then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court Vote House Republicans out MORE (R-Ohio) while agreeing to cut the deficit, though he hasn’t revealed how he would balance the costs.

Both McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanPoll: GOP has edge for open Wis. House seat In six new sanctuary states, Americans put at risk What the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress MORE (R-Wis.) have made it a priority to pass all 12 annual appropriations bills in what would be the first time since 1994 — a herculean task even under ordinary circumstances. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday he plans to stick by that plan.

McConnell tried to make the case for the higher spending, which was already signed into law, by reminding House Republicans that they had sought extra money for defense, and that brought up the total number.

“I have not seen anyone else be that much of an adult,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said of McConnell blaming the higher spending levels, in part, on the increased military spending.

“He held up a mirror, and I think it was a helpful mirror,” Massie added.

The battle over defense spending has flared within the House GOP over the last week. Last year’s deal included $551 billion for defense spending and $519 billion for nondefense.

Last week, the influential Republican Study Committee said it would oppose the current spending level of $1.07 trillion, angering defense hawks among its 170-membership base who believed anything lower would lead to harmful military cuts.