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McConnell tries to tamp Senate GOP revolt over spending levels

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden Pew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' MORE (Ky.) is trying to contain a GOP rebellion on spending levels, a struggle that has major implications for budget negotiations this fall.

Nineteen Republicans voted Tuesday to advance a motion to begin debate on a bill funding the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, even though McConnell says the bill will bust the spending cap set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).

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The Republicans who voted yes include four lawmakers who voted to approve the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee last month, even though McConnell explicitly urged them not to break the BCA’s spending levels.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Biden to tap Erika Moritsugu as new Asian American and Pacific Islander liaison White House races clock to beat GOP attacks MORE (D-Nev.) pounced on Tuesday’s vote to claim leverage in the spending fight that is heating up ahead of a fall deadline.

“Six Republicans voted to get it out of the Appropriations Committee. Nineteen voted to bring it onto the floor here,” Reid told reporters.

He used the bipartisan support for the legislation to bash House Republicans for supporting lower funding levels.

“This is really a common-sense jobs bill, a bill that we used to do all the time. So it’s a shame that instead of focusing on the middle class, our colleagues in the House are obsessed with appeasing the Tea Party,” he said.

The White House has threatened to veto any spending bills unless there is a bipartisan budget plan that “supports our recovery” and allows for necessary investments.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden to Putin: Tough sanctions, straight talk Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE (R-Ohio) has accused President Obama of threatening to shutdown the government unless he receives “job-destroying tax hikes.”

The Senate GOP defections hurt both McConnell’s and BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden to Putin: Tough sanctions, straight talk Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE’s leverage.

Two other Senate Republicans voted for the bill in committee, but one of them, Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranAnti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Democrats work to pick up GOP support on anti-Asian hate crimes bill MORE (Kan.), missed the floor vote, and Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum Small cities fret over feds redefining metro areas MORE (N.D.) on Tuesday voted against the motion. Moran is head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

McConnell urged Republican members of the Appropriations Committee in a meeting June 26 not to support the legislation because it broke the cap set by the 2011 budget deal, according to a GOP senator who attended.

“He was urging us not to break the BCA cap,” the lawmaker said.

But that plea didn’t resonate on the transportation bill, which costs $10 billion more than what the GOP-held House allocated. It would spend $2.4 billion more than what Obama requested.

In addition to Moran and Hoeven, Sens. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE (R-Miss.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE (R-Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (R-Alaska) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.) also backed it on June 27.

Those lawmakers and Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt's retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle MORE (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? MORE (R-S.C.) also voted in committee for the Energy and Water appropriations bill, which exceeds the level set by House Republicans by $4.3 billion. It exceeds Obama’s request by $290 million.

McConnell spoke out Tuesday in favor of the House spending levels, which he argues accurately reflects the budget deal Congress approved in summer 2011.

“I think our main goal going into the year-end discussion is to not walk away from the bipartisan agreement that we made two years ago to reduce spending,” he told reporters.

“The House of Representatives, nearly as I can tell, is following the law in putting together their appropriation bills,” he added. “My view is that we should do what we promised two years ago, and that’ll be my goal going into the — to the final discussions.”

A senior Democratic aide strongly disputed McConnell’s claim that the bipartisan spending bill would violate last Congress’s budget deal.

The staffer said the spending levels set by the House violate the BCA because they shield defense programs from the automatic cuts known as sequestration and pay for it by cutting nondefense domestic programs far in excess of what the 2011 budget deal envisioned.

“They bust through the Budget Control Act on the defense side and bring defense numbers to the pre-sequester levels,” the aide said of the House GOP spending bills. “They do that by cutting everything else down to far below post-sequester levels.”

A senior Republican aide argued the vote to end debate on the motion to proceed to the transportation spending bill is less significant than the committee vote because the Senate could vote to cut funding on the floor.

“The vote that conservatives are focused on is cloture on final passage if the bill can’t be improved,” the aide said.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure MORE (R-Ariz.), one of the 19 Republicans who voted to advance the motion, said he wants to have a chance to debate and amend the legislation.

McCain said, “I just want to have amendments ... we need to have amendments to move forward and debate. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”

But conservative critics, including the Club for Growth’s Andy Roth, panned that rationale.

“These procedural votes that advance bad policy are just as bad as the policy itself,” he said. “So it doesn’t fly.”

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 MORE (R-Tenn.), who has been negotiating with colleagues and administration officials for months in hopes of reaching a deficit-reduction deal, expressed disbelief that Republicans would vote for a measure that exceeds the budget caps.

“I can’t even imagine us considering appropriations bills that are above the Budget Control Act [spending levels],” Corker said after voting against the motion to advance the transportation bill. “It feels like an out-of-body experience that we would even be looking at appropriations bills that bust the budget cap.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, argued Tuesday the bill should not have come to the floor.

“The Senate is still on a precarious path,” he said. “The majority is pursuing a top-line discretionary spending level of $1.058 trillion for the fiscal year 2014. This exceeds the Budget Control Act level by over $90 billion.”

Reid turned up the temperature of the budget debate Tuesday by declaring that he will oppose any stopgap measure to keep government operating beyond the end of September if it reflects spending levels set by the House GOP.

Asked if he would support a continuing resolution that sets government funding at the $967 billion level favored by Republicans, Reid said, “I can’t speak for other Democrats. I wouldn’t.”

He warned that keeping government funding levels at post-sequester levels would have dangerous consequences for the U.S. economy.

“Let’s see what the House winds up doing. I think it would be a disaster for this country, and I would do everything within my ability to oppose that,” he said.