Republicans divided on seeking budget deal with Democrats

Republicans divided on seeking budget deal with Democrats
© Greg Nash

Republicans are divided over whether to work with Democrats on spending measures for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins in October. 

Conservatives say Republicans should go their own way and pass a budget and spending bills that make deeper cuts to spending and reflect GOP values.

Centrist members say that strategy is unrealistic and will increase the chances of a shutdown or, worse, a continuing resolution that would simply maintain existing funding levels. The only way to avoid that outcome, they say, is to work with Democrats.

“If we don’t have a bipartisan budget agreement, there’s a very good chance we’ll end up with a continuing resolution,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a House moderate.

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Though Republicans can pass top-line budget numbers on their own, Senate Democrats have the power to filibuster the spending bills needed to keep the government open. That means anything passed by the House will have to win support from some Senate Democrats.

Dent says a bipartisan deal is the inevitable end game for Republicans.

“It’s hard to deal with tax reform and infrastructure if you’re battling over keeping the government funded,” he said.  

A meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday demonstrated how little progress has been made on the overall strategy for funding the government. 

"This meeting was just to collect opinions, and there were many opinions,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla).

“I think everyone understands where it ends is a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to fund the government. What’s being discussed now is, how does the House form its position in advance of that eventuality?” he added.

But for all the moderates pushing to cut to the chase and deal with Democrats, a larger group is pushing to go it alone. 

The House Budget Committee, for example, has been negotiating with the House Freedom Caucus over balancing top-line spending numbers with cuts to welfare programs. That approach would yield few, if any, Democratic votes.

Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe stakes are sky-high for the pro-life cause in the upcoming midterms Dem senator: Congress should consider allowing companies to 'hack back' after cyberattacks House completes first half of 2019 spending bills MORE (R-Ga.) has promoted a plan to pass the 12 separate appropriations bills through subcommittees as usual, but then combine them into one omnibus bill before the August recess.  

“I would say there is certainly consensus on passing all 12 appropriations bills as soon as possible, but there are questions on the mechanics and timing,” Graves said.

That process, Graves said, would allow conservatives to take control of the budget conversation and ensure that a last-minute, bipartisan deal wouldn’t be negotiated by leadership to avert a government shutdown.  

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), which includes a majority of House Republicans, has backed the idea. 

“The game of financial and political brinksmanship has yielded few, if any, victories for conservatives,” RSC Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said. 

But moderates believe that passing purely partisan budget and appropriations bills will result in an even worse outcome: a continuing resolution that leaves government spending on auto-pilot.

“Those numbers are going to change because at some point in the process you have to have Democratic cooperation,” said Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of both the House Budget and Appropriations committees.  

House Republicans and members of the Trump administration agree that a continuing resolution, which would keep 2017 spending levels in place, would preempt progress on many of the party’s priorities. 

“I don’t want to get a CR. A CR means that the president that we have now would essentially be working off the same language and the same numbers that Obama did, so whatever we need to get the process done is what we have to do,” Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.). 

A continuing resolution would also preclude other Republican plans, such as increasing defense spending or building Trump’s border wall. 

Dent said he hopes that Republicans will seek Democratic support not only on spending, but also on increasing the debt ceiling. Failure to address the debt ceiling would result in a U.S. debt default and could be a body blow to financial markets and the economy. 

“Of course this will happen, because the alternative is unthinkable,” said Dent. “The question is how much drama will we endure between now and the time that happens.” 

Scott Wong contributed.