Left-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote

Democrats on Tuesday pulled the plug on an expected vote to set the budget for spending this year after objections from their own caucus to the top-line numbers.

The plan to schedule a vote on the numbers for Wednesday was scrapped after it became clear that the measure would fail.

“I don’t think we’d have the votes if we went to the floor right now,” said Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocratic lawmaker calls Trump a 'moron' for his handling of Iran Democrats not keen to reignite Jerusalem embassy fight Pelosi slated to deliver remarks during panel hearing on poverty MORE (D-Ky.) “It’s not going to happen.”

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The bill would have increased defense spending in 2020 by $17 billion and nondefense spending by $34 billion, bringing the totals to $664 billion for defense and $631 billion for nondefense spending.

Progressives were pushing for an amendment to raise nondefense spending by an additional $33 billion, which would put it on par with defense spending. Without the amendment, many progressives threatened to vote against the legislation.

“If we can’t get full parity then we don’t need a budget cap vote,” said Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanWarren introduces universal child care legislation On The Money: DOJ offers legal opinion backing refusal to release Trump tax returns | Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage | Trump bashes Powell ahead of crucial Fed meeting | Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push MORE (D-Wis.), the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which represents more than a third of House Democrats.

The 27-member Blue Dog Democrats, in the meantime, applied pressure from the other side, raising alarms about increased spending.

Most of that group’s members were willing to back the deal, but a dozen of them threatened to oppose it unless spending was cut further, according to a Democratic aide.

“Blue dogs have long been committed to fiscal responsibility at a time when we are $22 trillion in debt, in large part [because] of the profligacy of the Republicans and their irresponsible tax bill. Somebody needs to be the adult in the room,” said Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie Murphy Biz groups target Florida voters ahead of Democratic debates in Miami House panel approves bills on tax extenders, expanding tax credits 2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting MORE (D-Fla.), a Blue Dog co-chair.

Republicans said that the Democratic failure to reach consensus was a sign of “disarray” and an indication that the majority party could not govern. It came after Democrats failed to put together a full budget resolution because of differences within the caucus over spending.

“Amid intraparty divisions, not only were they unable to reach a consensus on a budget — punting on one of our most basic responsibilities in Congress — they were unable to gain enough support to pass their backup plan,” said Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackPelosi slated to deliver remarks during panel hearing on poverty Trump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag CBO: Medicare for All gives 'many more' coverage but 'potentially disruptive' MORE (R-Ark.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

Democrats, he noted, were barely able to pass the deal placing budgetary ceilings on spending through the House Budget Committee last week.

Democrats brushed off that suggestion, pointing out that the caps deal was merely a first step in real negotiations with Senate Republicans.

“We are a very diverse caucus with a lot of different ideas,” said Yarmuth, noting that many House Democrats had never served in the majority before.

“There are going to be some learning pangs. But again, I think we’ve got time. I don’t consider this an ultimate defeat,” he said.

Without a new deal, a previous Obama-era law would impose deep cuts to defense and nondefense spending, reducing total spending by roughly $125 billion next year.

The House did successfully pass a rule on Tuesday that will allow appropriators to begin piecing together spending legislation at the budgetary ceilings provided under the deal. Yarmuth said this would allow negotiations over final spending ceilings to continue — and possible for a deal to be finalized after a two-week recess that begins this weekend.

Pocan also downplayed the differences, saying few outside Washington, D.C., will pay any attention to them.

“This issue is really big to people who are inside the Beltway, who watch wonky budget conversations. Everyone in Wisconsin is busy having a beer right now and not worrying about it. So real people, this is not an issue,” he said.

He also sought to distance himself from comparisons to the House Freedom Caucus, the right-wing GOP faction that regularly withheld support from Republicans during spending debates when that party had the House majority.

“No, I mean this is a pretty easy issue because you can proceed ahead,” Pocan said. “If this were a definitive wall — it’s this or sequester — then that would be a Tea Party move. There’s lots of other options.”

But the lack of consensus on spending reflected a deeper Democratic divide over how to define the party and stay in power.

“We are the part of the party that delivers the majority, and this is the wing of the party that represents districts that care about the debt and deficits. They need to vote with their districts,” said a Democratic aide, referring to the party's centrists.

Progressives made a similar argument, stating that they represented the Democratic base and its energy.

“We’re the core of the party, we represent the base, and the core of America,” Pocan said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns MORE (R-Ky.) announced on Tuesday that Democrats and Republicans would form a staff-level working group to negotiate a final spending deal. House Democratic leadership sources pointed to the announcement as a rationale for scrapping Wednesday’s vote, saying it was not necessary in light of the bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.

“The Speaker and Leader McConnell are negotiating a caps deal. We'll see what happens with those discussions,” a senior Democratic aide said.

But some progressives begged to differ. 

“I don’t think this is an issue of divided government, this is an issue of a divided Democratic caucus on issues of defense spending,” said Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSanders unveils student debt plan amid rivalry with Warren Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law GOP lawmaker on Iran: Congress should vote on 'what's worthy of spilling American blood and what isn't' MORE (D-Calif.). 

Mike Lillis contributed.