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 TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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 GrahamWhy Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents 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 PompeoTrump admin announces new restrictions on travel to Cuba Russia is gaining influence in Libya: How will Washington respond? Trump reverses policy, allows lawsuits against businesses in Cuba MORE this past week that the president’s proposed 21 percent cut to his agency “ain't happening.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Collins receives more donations from Texas oil, gas industry than from Maine residents | Interior chief left meetings off schedule | Omar controversy jeopardizes Ocasio-Cortez trip to coal mine Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Collins receives more donations from Texas fossil fuel industry than from Maine residents 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: 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 Overnight Health Care: CEO of largest private health insurer slams 'Medicare for All' plans | Dem bill targets youth tobacco use | CVS fined over fake painkiller prescriptions | Trump, first lady to discuss opioid crisis at summit 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 Shelby20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Conservatives urge Trump to stick with Moore for Fed Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field MORE (R-Ala.) deferred to Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Why Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Pelosi accuses Barr of 'single-minded effort' to protect Trump against Mueller report Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings 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 HoyerDemocrats, GOP poised to pounce on Mueller findings GOP trapped between Trump and Dems on spending Wasserman Schultz: 'We need a President, not a comic book villain' 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.