Washington is ready to spend

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Washington wants to spend more.

Just four years ago, the nation's rapidly expanding debt was seen as Washington's No. 1 crisis.


When House Republicans took the majority in 2011, they made it their overarching mission to rein in spending. Together with the White House, they agreed to limit spending for the next decade by the use of budget caps.

Now those spending ceilings are unpopular with members of both parties.

Pressure to break them is coming from all sides, and building.

“We’re living with just really low numbers without any wiggle room, any flexibility,” Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerProgressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill House narrowly approves .9B Capitol security bill after 'squad' drama GOP urges members to vote against Capitol security bill MORE (R-Texas), one appropriations subcommittee chairwoman, told The Hill.

“Particularly in foreign operations, or defense, or some of the others, it’s really difficult.”

There are plenty of causes that members believe deserve more money.

Lawmakers want more funding for the Pentagon to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Last week’s deadly Amtrak crash has provoked Democrats to call for higher infrastructure spending.

Other lawmakers warn that the federal government isn’t providing enough funds for law enforcement as the nation faces a string of police-violence cases involving minority communities.

There also have been long-standing calls for more funds to fight Ebola, and to fund health and science research generally.

The White House has been aggressive in calling on the Republican-led Congress to end sequestration and increase spending. Congressional Democrats have also tried to increase expenditures by offering amendments to GOP spending bills.

“It’s an opportunity for us to make a point,” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said about the proposals to breach sequestration limits. “That’s our point exactly. We think that the cap stands in the way of us moving toward a more perfect union.”

The $51.4 billion House bill funding justice, commerce and science for fiscal 2016 creates a new $50 million community policing initiative requested by Obama, but contains only $15 million for a program that would provide law enforcement with body cameras. That’s $35 million short of the White House request for next year.

The White House has signaled it could veto the bill, one of several it is warning it will oppose.

It’s not just Democrats who are interested in lifting the spending ceilings.

At an annual fiscal summit Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said he was open to getting rid of the spending caps in exchange for cuts to mandatory spending.

“I would say on our side of the aisle, we would gladly do something about sequester, but we’re not going to raise taxes. We’re going to deal with the mandatory side of the spending. And if they want to deal with that, we’ll gladly come to some agreement,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said at the summit.

That reintroduces a problem that has marked virtually all of the budgetary battles of the Obama era — and has so far proven unsolvable. Both sides agree that a deal should be possible in which Democrats agree to cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs, and Republicans agree to tax hikes. But the specifics have always been elusive.

An inability to reach such a deal doomed Obama’s effort to reach a big budget deal with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerAre maskless House members scofflaws? Israel, Democrats and the problem of the Middle East Joe Crowley to register as lobbyist for recording artists MORE (R-Ohio) in 2011, ushering in the sequester.

Members of both parties have been talking informally about a new budget deal that would lift caps. It would be modeled after the one reached two years ago by Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce Now we know why Biden was afraid of a joint presser with Putin MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPublic option fades with little outcry from progressives Senate GOP blocks bill to combat gender pay gap OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps MORE (D-Wash.) that provided some budgetary relief.

Boehner recently told reporters he would be open to another budget deal.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) predicted Congress would pass a “fix” to the sequester over the next four to six months that would allow spending increases for the Pentagon and domestic programs.

He argued that Republicans ultimately won’t be able to swallow another fiscal year of the sequester.

But who will come to the table first?

Republicans point out it was the White House that suggested the sequester in 2011. They say it should be Obama who signals he’s willing to accept some spending limits.

“Once the White House — whose idea sequestration was — comes around and agrees with us on some reasonable spending limits, until that happens, we have no choice, but to abide by the law, which we’re doing with these bills,” Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said at a recent markup.

The White House says it is Republicans who must offer a deal. 

Emily Cain, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, told The Hill President Obama has already pitched a budget to Congress the ends sequestration.

“If the Republican leadership doesn’t like our proposal, we encourage them to put forward their own plan to address sequestration equally for both defense and non-defense,” she said.

Asked who needs to come to the negotiating table first to change the law, Granger paused for several seconds.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “We should do it. I hope we can work together.”