House panel votes to boost spending by $133B over two years

Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Budget Committee overcame differences within their ranks to approve legislation Wednesday that would boost spending by $133 billion over two years, but warring factions threaten to derail the bill when it’s on the House floor next week.

Lawmakers voted 19-17 to advance a measure that would raise 2020 caps on nondefense spending by $34 billion, to $631 billion, and increase defense spending by $17 billion, to $664 billion.

The nondefense cap would climb to $646 billion in 2021 and the defense cap would rise to $680 billion.

{mosads}“By raising the nondefense and defense caps for 2020 and 2021, the bill will empower Congress to make strong investments in our national and economic security and move our nation forward,” said Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).

Without legislation to raise the spending caps, he added, spending would fall by 10 percent, cutting into defense, education, health care and other areas.

Three Democrats — Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Ro Khanna (Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) — voted against the bill because of increases to defense spending.

“This is a key philosophical moment for our party,” said Khanna, who offered an amendment to freeze defense spending. “We cannot be against endless wars and then fund those wars.”

Khanna’s amendment garnered seven votes, short of the 19 needed for adoption.

The overall bill would freeze off-budget funding for defense at $69 billion and nondefense at $8 billion, while creating off-budget categories to fund the 2020 census and IRS enforcement.

{mossecondads}Republicans offered amendments that would further increase defense spending, reduce discretionary spending, extend budget caps beyond their 2021 expiration and require spending offsets. The amendments were rejected by Democrats.

The bill’s advancement through the committee marks a successful turnaround of sorts for Democrats, who had to tamp down objections from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) in the hours leading up to the vote. Fifteen of the committee’s 22 Democrats, including Yarmuth, are CPC members.

According to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nondefense spending is at a historic low relative to the size of the economy, at just 2.9 percent.

“I really believe that we can do better,” said Jayapal, co-chairwoman of the CPC, adding that she hopes to work on the bill further before it reaches the floor.

The budget measure faces an uphill battle in the House, where it is expected to get a vote next week. Passage will require Democrats to rally votes from the dozens-strong CPC, while also securing support from centrist Blue Dogs and New Democrats who have voiced concerns over defense levels and deficits.

Republicans on the Budget Committee voted against the measure on grounds that it increased deficits.

“That’s incredibly concerning when you consider the fact that our national debt has exceeded $22 trillion and annual deficits are nearing $1 trillion,” said ranking member Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.).

He also noted that mandatory spending is the biggest driver of deficits and debt.

Democrats responded by saying deficits have soared since President Trump took office, including two years when Republicans controlled Congress. The 2017 GOP tax law is projected to add $1.9 trillion to deficits over the course of a decade.

“Our friends on the other side of the aisle first push a massive, $2 trillion tax cut, don’t pay for one penny of it, zero offsets,” said Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). “Lo and behold, a year later we have a record increase in the deficit, and the other side comes back and says, ‘My goodness, we must have a spending problem.’ ”

Republicans also tore into Democrats for not passing a budget resolution, a decision that resulted from disagreements over key policies and questions over tax increases.

“We aren’t even 100 days into the new Democrat majority, and already they failed the most basic responsibility of governing: the budget,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo). “As the popular saying goes, you had one job.”

Yarmuth argued that the GOP did not bring their budget resolution to the House floor for fiscal 2019, when they still controlled the chamber.

On a practical level, the legislation will serve as the opening bid in negotiations with Republicans and the White House over final spending levels for 2020. But the groups are starting worlds apart.

The Senate Budget Committee last week advanced a budget resolution that would adhere to the existing legal caps of $543 billion for nondefense and $576 billion for defense.

Trump has proposed leaving the caps in place, but added $96 billion to an off-budget defense account, which would provide a huge boost to defense while cutting domestic spending drastically.

Without an agreement on topline spending numbers, appropriators will not be able to begin writing their spending bills by the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

At that point, Congress would either have to pass a stopgap measure or face a government shutdown.

Tags Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Jason Smith John Yarmuth Pramila Jayapal Ro Khanna Steve Womack
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