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 YarmuthDivided Dems look to regroup On The Money — Presented by Job Creators Network — GOP senators urge Trump not to nominate Cain | Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns | Party divisions force Dems to scrap budget vote | House passes IRS reform bill Left-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote MORE (D-Ky.) “It’s not going to happen.”

ADVERTISEMENT

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 PocanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers Dems counter portrait of discord Divided Dems look to regroup 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 MurphyLeft-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure 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 WomackLeft-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote House panel votes to boost spending by 3B over two years Dem spending proposal faces uncertain vote 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 McConnellFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring 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) KhannaEnvironmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI MORE (D-Calif.). 

Mike Lillis contributed.