GOP trapped between Trump and Dems on spending

The congressional debate over how much to increase federal spending will soon put a spotlight on Senate Republicans, following weeks of infighting among House Democrats.

All eyes will be on Republicans to see what kind of funding priorities they highlight in negotiations with Democrats over spending levels for the next fiscal year, which starts in less than six months.

Republican appropriators are caught between President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE's drastic budget proposal to slash nondefense funding, which they largely reject, and Democratic proposals to increase spending by tens of billions of dollars.

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Trump wants to slash nondefense spending by $53 billion while boosting military funding by about $34 billion through a budget maneuver that would add billions to an off-book account.

GOP appropriators in the Senate have made clear they are not on board with eviscerating nondefense programs, which cover everything from education and health to transportation and housing.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats Congress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit MORE (R-S.C.), who leads the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the State Department and foreign operations, told Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Pentagon to present White House with plans to deploy up to 10K troops to Middle East: report Senate panel rejects requiring Congress sign off before Iran strike MORE this past week that the president’s proposed 21 percent cut to his agency “ain't happening.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (R-Maine), who heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, said she was “concerned” and “deeply troubled by many of the administration’s proposals” in the White House budget request.

“It includes provisions that were rejected as part of our deliberations last year, and I predict that many of the same program eliminations and other cost-shifting gimmicks will once again be rejected,” she said, citing cuts to community block grants and other programs she termed essential.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Top Republican says Senate unlikely to vote on any election security bills San Francisco becomes first city to ban facial recognition technology MORE (R-Mo.), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, “Frankly, I think it's a difficult budget for you to defend.”

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But while it’s clear most Republicans are opposed to dramatic cuts in nondefense spending, it’s uncertain what level of spending they can all get behind.

Republicans also haven’t weighed in on House Democrats’ plans to raise statutory spending caps by $17 billion for defense and $34 billion for nondefense.

Both sides need to come to an agreement if they want to increase spending limits put in place under a 2011 law.

The Senate Budget Committee last month approved a budget resolution, along party lines, that would keep in place the spending cuts mandated by that 2011 law. But the resolution also left open a path to boost spending.

When asked what his preference was for negotiated cap levels, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight Immigration fight imperils deal on disaster aid package MORE (R-Ala.) deferred to Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Trump denies 'tantrum' in meeting with Pelosi: 'It is all such a lie!' MORE (D-Calif.), who will all be involved in negotiations to work out new spending levels.

Shelby said he hopes they will reach a deal to allow appropriators to start writing bills.

“If we could reach that and we had a definite number, like we did before, we could accelerate the appropriations process,” he said.

But Trump has not budged on his insistence for deep cuts.

The president’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told The Hill on Thursday that Trump would allow mandated spending cuts to go through if he did not get his favored outcome through the negotiations process.

“The president has indicated, if the spending caps going all the way back to the 2011 deal are not met, then we will sequester across-the-board, both defense and nondefense, excluding entitlements, but we will run by those rules,” Kudlow said during The Hill’s Newsmaker Series event in Washington. “That’s tough stuff. I think that’s appropriate.”

Under current law, those cuts would be automatic and kick in around December unless new legislation is passed by both chambers and signed by the president.

House Democrats for now are happy to see the focus shift to Senate Republicans after a bruising battle between progressives and moderates over what the Democratic position should be.

Progressives railed against increases for defense and instead sought more resources for other programs, while centrist Blue Dogs slammed spending they called fiscally irresponsible.

Acrimony within the party forced Democrats on the House Budget Committee to forgo a budget resolution in favor of what was meant to be a simpler two-year bill with new spending caps.

But after the bill advanced by the narrowest of margins, with some progressives voting against it in committee, further infighting forced Democrats to call off an expected floor vote.

“We're going to have a caps deal later,” House Majority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment Trump urges Dem leaders to pass new NAFTA before infrastructure deal MORE (D-Md.) said this week.

The Maryland Democrat also highlighted the predicament GOP lawmakers face with Trump.

“Until the president is willing to talk about a caps deal, I think the Senate Republicans are not going to talk about a caps deal, and I don't think the House Republicans are going to talk about a caps deal,” he said.