Republican fiscal splits erupt; Rogers rips party leadership on spending cuts

Long-running Republican tensions over the Ryan budget’s deep spending cuts boiled over Wednesday as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee accused his party of being unable to support them.

In a blistering statement, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he was “extremely disappointed” with his leadership’s decision to pull the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill from the floor.

Leadership said they simply ran out of time — but Rogers charged that wasn’t the real reason.  

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He hinted that a vote on the measure was scrapped because leaders didn’t have the votes to support the deep cuts he was directed to write, and accused Republicans of effectively abandoning House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget. 

Rogers called for a bipartisan deal that would replace the unpopular sequester with something bridging the gap between the House budget and Senate spending measures he said were too costly to pass the lower chamber. 

“With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago,” Rogers said. “Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end. And, it is also clear that the higher funding levels advocated by the Senate are also simply not achievable in this Congress.”

The office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) cited the House’s busy schedule this week for pulling the bill, but with the chamber scheduled to leave for its five-week August recess on Friday, it likely won’t come up again until the fall, if at all. House members returned to Washington late Tuesday. 

“The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon,” Rogers said.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denied Republicans lacked the votes for the bill. “We just don’t have enough time,” he told The Hill.

Asked to respond to Rogers’s statement, Cantor said the “larger problem” for rank-and-file Republicans is the lack of action to reform entitlement programs, an issue that is not part of appropriations bills but was at the heart of the Ryan budget.

“I can’t speak to his statement, but look, we have a larger problem here,” the majority leader told reporters. “The larger problem is we haven’t addressed what’s truly driving our deficit. That is the context within which I think members are looking at appropriations bills and the impact of the sequester.”

Cantor called on the president to work with Republicans on entitlement reform, and said he held out hope that the House would still be able to pass appropriation bills after the August recess.

The decision to pull the bill and Rogers’s criticism of it put sunlight on long-suppressed divisions within the GOP over how to handle the automatic spending cuts ahead of fights this fall over funding the government and raising the federal borrowing limit. 

President Obama visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday for closed-door meetings with House and Senate Democrats in which he sought to unify his side for those battles. He insisted he would not negotiate with Republicans on raising the debt ceiling, and that he would not reduce planned cuts to defense spending at the expense of domestic programs. 

The sequester imposed equal cuts to defense and domestic discretionary spending, but Ryan’s budget restores some defense spending while making deeper cuts on the domestic side.

For Rogers and other senior Republican appropriators, the pulling of the THUD bill amounted to an “I told you so” moment. When the leadership agreed to back a 10-year balanced-budget plan, they warned that rank-and-file members would not like the stark reductions once they were put to specific programs, especially to infrastructure and the social safety net. With the Republicans unable to pass their own bill, those warnings became reality.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not comment on the move. Like Rogers and other Republicans, he has called for an agreement to replace sequestration with more targeted spending cuts and entitlement reforms. But Republicans are rejecting Democratic demands for higher taxes, and in the Senate, conservatives have blocked attempts to move to a formal House-Senate budget conference committee.

Democrats seized on the THUD failure to argue anew that the GOP budget was impractical and that the House should negotiate an end to sequestration.

“The collapse of the partisan Transportation and Housing bill in the House proves that their sequestration-on-steroids bills are unworkable, and that we are going to need a bipartisan deal to replace sequestration,” Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, portrayed the move as the latest example of “chaos” in the GOP-led House.

And Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama on strategy and communications, said it showed Republicans must work with Democrats to govern.

The THUD bill has $10 billion less in spending than a companion version being considered in the Senate that has divided upper chamber Republicans. Six Republicans voted for the higher spending in the bill in committee and 19 voted to start debate despite objections from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The House bill cuts $7 billion from 2013. Hardest hit in the GOP bill is the Community Development Block Grant program, which is cut nearly in half to $1.6 billion, a cut of $1.3 billion that makes its budget lower than it was in 1975. There is no funding for high-speed rail, and Amtrak gets a 21 percent cut to its operating budget.

Democrats had suggested that Republicans were not comfortable with the cuts.

“I always expected they would have vote problems on this. I don’t get the scheduling issue. We finished reading through the bill last night and were just down to end-of-bill funding limitation amendments,” a Democratic aide said.

The House has passed bills funding Defense and Veterans Affairs at higher levels and Homeland Security and Energy and Water with relatively minor cuts. The rest of the bills contain far more controversial cuts. The most contentious, the Labor and Health and Human Services bill, would be cut 19 percent below the sequester. It was slated for release last week, but that release was canceled. 

Rogers had shown his frustration earlier in the day with the top-line spending level of $967 billion outlined in the Ryan budget, a figure $91 billion below the Senate’s.

He called some cuts in an Interior and Environment appropriations bill “extremely tough, bloody decisions,” though he praised a 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) railed against many of the cuts in the environmental bill he authored, and lambasted members of both parties for failing to back the Simpson-Bowles budget plan when they had a chance. 

Only 38 members voted for the proposal, he noted, which was based on the plan authored by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles (D).

This story was published at 3:50 p.m. and last updated at 8:38 p.m.