Senate Dems escalate spending fight

Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee on Thursday adopted a blueprint for 12 annual 2014 spending bills that escalates a budget showdown with the House.

The Senate spending plan, which passed in a rare 15-14 partisan vote in the normally congenial committee, raises the possibility of a government shutdown on Oct. 1 and another round of automatic sequester cuts after Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

The plan, authored by Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (D-Md.), uses a $1.058 trillion topline spending level compared to a $967 billion level being used in the House. 

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"This senator rejects that the sequester is the new normal ... there is time to cancel the sequester for 2014," Mikulski said. 

Huge differences exist between the House and Senate plans that will be difficult to resolve. For example, the Senate's approved spending for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services is a whopping $42 billion more than the House's spending level.

Mikulski said she plans to complete draft bills by August. 

At the markup, ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) offered an amendment to use the $967 billion number, albeit without a breakdown for each of the 12 bills. He argued the Mikulski top-line number "ignores the law and puts us on the path to another sequester.” 

Shelby's amendment was defeated in a 15-14 vote.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatty MurrayDems demand answers on report that admin tried to trade ObamaCare payments Dem senators push for probe of Sessions over Comey firing Dems unveil bill to bring back workplace safety rule MORE (D-Wash.) argued that the House spending plan also ignores the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), because it increases defense spending by $54 billion over the ceiling set in the law. The House deepens social spending cuts to make up for the added defense spending.

“They will tell you they are adhering to the BCA but they are actually doing the opposite,” she said. 

Murray made clear that Senate Democrats intend to block any sequester relief for the Defense Department unless the House comes to the bargaining table to reverse the social program cuts. 

“I want you to know they will not be able to protect the Pentagon without an agreement,” she said

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The Appropriations Committee approved two of the 12 spending bills it is considering. 

The votes on the substance of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill and on the Agriculture spending bill split committee Republicans.

Six Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellConservative groups press Senate on ObamaCare repeal Week ahead: Trump budget coming Tuesday | CBO to unveil health bill score | House hearing on border tax Week ahead: EPA braces for Trump budget MORE (R-Ky.), voted against the bills because of their opposition to the Mikulski topline number. 

Sens. Mike JohannsMike JohannsLobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington Republican senator vows to block nominees over ObamaCare co-ops MORE (Neb.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate GOP short on ideas for stabilizing ObamaCare markets GOP senators push Trump for DOE research funding Key chairman open to delaying repeal of ObamaCare mandate MORE (Tenn.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamJuan Williams: Trump morphs into Nixon This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony GOP senator wouldn’t be ‘surprised’ if Comey forced to cancel testimony MORE (S.C.), Dan CoatsDan CoatsWeek ahead: Trump defense budget under scrutiny Is America preparing for Russia's next onslaught? Watch: Live coverage of acting FBI director's first public comments MORE (Ind.) and Shelby also voted "no."

Coats cast his vote as a call for a deficit grand bargain on entitlements, which he said should be used to turn off the sequester.

Democrats countered that they have been seeking a budget conference committee with the House but the Senate GOP has blocked that.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntSenators unveil infrastructure investment bill GOP nears total exasperation with Trump GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director MORE (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said such a conference would likely fail and the $967 billion number will prevail.

"We are better off recognizing that now," he said, arguing 12 detailed bills are better than relying on a mindless sequester.