Shelby signals GOP can accept Biden's $1.5T with more for defense

Senate Republicans negotiating spending levels for 2021 say they are willing to accept President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE’s $1.5 trillion price tag for discretionary spending provided that more of those funds are allocated toward defense spending.

“My goal is to get more money for defense. We live in a tough world,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill. 

“The allocations will shift around, but at the end of the day, there’s going to be a struggle for national security.”

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Asked if the negotiation was limited to the allocation, rather than attempting to bring down the $1.5 trillion overall spending figure, Shelby replied, “I think that’s fair.”

Biden’s budget proposal called for a steep, 16 percent increase in nondefense spending — a category that covers health, education, transportation, foreign affairs, the justice system, energy and other nondefense government priorities — but only a nominal 1.7 percent increase to defense spending.

Shelby has referred to the nominal increase as a budget cut, and said it would jeopardize national security.

The ongoing discussions with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill MORE (D-Vt.), however, have made progress, with Shelby looking to mark up two or three of the 12 annual appropriations bills in subcommittees before the August recess.

“We both want to get things done,” Leahy said of the most recent discussions, which took place Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon, adding that each man was contending with opposition from within his own party ranks.

“But we both agree on one thing: nobody benefits from a continuing resolution,” he added, saying he hoped they would strike a deal before August.

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If Congress does not pass a continuing resolution — a stopgap measure — or approve the spending bills by the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, the government will face a shutdown.

In the House, Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden House passes sprawling spending bill ahead of fall shutdown fight MORE (D-Conn.) has set a schedule for marking up all 12 bills in June and July, concluding on July 16. Passing the bills on the House floor could leak into September.

DeLauro said those bills would largely conform to the allocations Biden, whom she referred to as “the guy,” proposed in his budget.

“We’re moving forward with the markups, with where we are, just focused on the guy, the president’s budget, and we’re moving forward,” she said. 

“We’ll see where the Senate comes out,” she added, saying actions would be over the course of several months.

“We have to wait for the Senate to move.”

While the consensus appears to be that a continuing resolution of some kind will be required to keep at least parts of the government open into the 2022 fiscal year, the GOP’s acceptance of the overall budget number paves the way for a simpler negotiation between the House and Senate on the final bills down the line.

In previous years, the House’s partisan bills were set to completely different spending levels than those in the Senate, adding to the mayhem.

The acquiescence to a significant increase in discretionary spending is the latest sign that the politics around deficits and spending have changed.

Under President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE, Republicans stomached a boost in nondefense spending in order to win Democratic support for a significant increase on the defense side of the ledger.

Amid ongoing discussions over multitrillion-dollar bills on infrastructure and family support, as well as trillions already spent on COVID-19 relief, the $120 billion increase in spending could easily get lost.

But that increase would add over a trillion to deficits over a decade without increases in revenues.

The nation's debt, as a share of annual economic production, is on track to break its all-time record in the coming decade.

This story was updated at 4:15 p.m.