Senate spending plan boosts House moderates

The Senate is giving fresh ammunition to centrist House Republicans arguing for a bipartisan, bicameral approach to the budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee revealed spending levels for the 2018 funding bills that are in line with current spending levels — a departure from a House budget that would impose steep cuts to mandatory spending programs such as food stamps and a big increase in defense spending.

{mosads}The Senate’s plans are in line with arguments from House centrists who say their party should be working on a budget based in the reality that spending bills will need Democratic votes to get through the Senate.

“We are writing the appropriations bill with numbers that are not real,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group, said this week in complaining about the House’s approach.

“Everyone knows that there will be a bipartisan, bicameral budget agreement at some point,” he added.

House Republicans are working on a budget for 2018 that would include special fast-track budget reconciliation rules preventing Senate Democrats from filibustering tax reform.

The budget will also help shape whatever deal will be reached to fund the government for 2018.

The budget fight in the House has been derailed by an internal GOP fight over how deep to cut into spending. It’s not clear if the House will be able to come up with the votes to pass the budget on the floor next week.

Centrists largely argue that the fight is self-defeating when it comes to getting the fast-track process set up for tax reform and setting the stage for government funding.

In May, they note, Democrats and Republicans had to negotiate a belated spending deal for 2017, and that is likely to be what happens before October, when funding runs out again.

Without a spending deal or an agreement to keep current levels in place through a continuing resolution, the government will shut down.

Conservative Republicans insist their conference should work its will on the budget and insist on greater spending cuts.

The House Budget Committee approved a resolution Wednesday that increased defense spending by $70.5 billion and cut nondefense spending by $7.5 billion compared to current levels, while mandating $203 billion in cuts to mandatory spending programs.

Cuts of that size are a dead letter with Senate Democrats, yet conservatives want them to go even deeper.

Some see conservatives as mostly seeking to burnish their credentials back home, but members of the House Freedom Caucus say they are focused on results.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an influential member of the group, said he wants guarantees that a controversial border tax won’t be included in tax reform before he signs off on a budget.

“The only reason you need a budget is for reconciliation,” he said. “So if that’s the only reason we’re doing it, we’d like to know what the savings will be like and what tax reform is going to look like.”

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member who voted for the budget in committee, remains unsure if he will support it when it is up in the full House.

“The vote count gets even more complex on the House floor,” he noted.

While the budget cannot be filibustered in the Senate and only needs 51 votes (or 50 with Vice President Pence breaking a tie), spending measures to keep the government funded will need 60 votes to break a filibuster.

Some House conservatives say Republicans should simply get rid of the legislative filibuster, something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly ruled out.

“We finally had to do something different when Mr. [Neil] Gorsuch was nominated,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said, referring to the Senate rule change that ended filibusters on Supreme Court nominations. That allowed Gorsuch’s nomination to be cleared.

“The senators voted to change that, and the same dynamics exist with this legislation,” Franks said.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, inadvertently pointed to one reason why the budget process will remain fraught. 

Asked by Bloomberg why she thought tax reform would be easier to pass than the stalled healthcare bill, she said: “The House, the Senate and the White House are all working together so that when we have a plan that is finally revealed to the public, that we will be in coordination, we will be in concert.”

When it comes to spending and the budget, little coordination has taken place.

Tags Diane Black Mitch McConnell Trent Franks

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