Dems face internal battle over budget

Democrats are bracing for an internal battle as the House Budget Committee starts cobbling together its budget for 2020, a blueprint that’s expected to put the party's progressive wing at odds with its moderates.

The more liberal side of the Democratic Caucus wants the budget resolution to showcase a broad array of its policy initiatives, including elements of the "Green New Deal" and “Medicare for all.”

But moderate Democrats who won in districts that voted for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE in 2016 are concerned about signing onto those policies, and the political consequences of backing a budget that endorses them. Blue Dog Democrats, for example, prioritize reining in the nation’s exploding debt and will have to worry about voting for a budget that would lead to a $1 trillion deficit.


“Doing a budget resolution that can get 218 votes is going to be a difficult task for us, I don’t think there’s any question about that," said House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Pro-impeachment Democrats wary of Al Green's floor vote push Ex-DCCC official: McGrath comments on Kavanaugh vote not 'a death sentence' MORE (D-Ky.).

"We can only lose 17 votes, and if we don’t include a lot of the progressives’ priorities then we’ll lose a lot of them; if we spend too much money, we’ll lose some from the other side,” he added. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Democrats say they broadly agree about addressing problems like climate change, health care, infrastructure and immigration. Where they differ is the scale of the solution.

“A lot of what we have to do is do ‘more,’ ” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalActivist: Exclusion of domestic workers from federal labor laws 'a legacy of slavery' How Trump suddenly brought Democrats together on a resolution condemning him House votes against striking Pelosi remarks from record MORE (D-Wash.), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). “It’s not that we’re opposing [policies], necessarily, though in some cases we do oppose. A lot of it is we need more of something.”

Health care is a key example. At the request of the CPC, Yarmuth has agreed to hold hearings on Medicare for all in the spring. He is also planning hearings on the economic cost of climate change.

Even if the 2020 budget doesn’t include Medicare for all in its entirety, progressives want it to carve out a path forward.


“The best push is to show the unstoppable momentum around this,” Jayapal said.

The budget resolution is a nonbinding document that sets spending levels and is used as a statement of policy goals.

A brief look at the Democratic 2020 presidential candidates shows that Medicare for all is far from the consensus party position.

While candidates such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries The hidden connection between immigration and health care: Our long-term care crisis Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (D-Calif.) are behind some version of the plan, moderates like Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar fundraises for McConnell challenger: 'Two Amys are better than one' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE (D-Minn.) and possible contender Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment On The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (D-Ohio) are skeptical of the plan that’s a form of single-payer.

The same is true of the Green New Deal, a comprehensive proposal that sets dramatic goals to eliminate U.S. carbon emissions by 2030. The measure has varying levels of support within the party, but progressives could push to include some of its components in the budget resolution.

“I think what we try to do is make everything as progressive as possible in the Democratic budget,” said Jayapal.

But those aren’t the only issues on progressives’ wish list.

When asked about his budget priorities, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-chaired the CPC in the previous Congress, rattled off several issues.

“Education, health care, and rebuilding what has already been cut around public lands and waters,” he said.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse to test Trump's veto pen on Saudi arms sales Sanders campaign vents frustration with media, polls Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses MORE (D-Calif.), a CPC leader and member of the Budget Committee, mentioned wanting $80 billion to expand high-speed internet, $40 billion for vocational training programs and a massive infrastructure plan.

“The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, that would create jobs,” he said.

Some of those policies, and dollar amounts, spell trouble for the moderate wing of the party, including the slew of freshmen who won in red districts, helping sweep Democrats back into the majority.

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) is among the lawmakers who won in a tough race by campaigning on fixing ObamaCare instead of talking about Medicare for all, as well as avoiding support for liberal priorities like a $15 minimum wage.

One of the central concerns tying moderates together on policy is issues of cost, a rallying cry for the 27 Blue Dog Democrats.

“We all agree that infrastructure, climate change, and health care are among the most urgent problems that need to be addressed — and we will have a healthy debate on how to create bipartisan solutions that can be implemented in this era of divided government,” said Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaMembers to have little time to question Mueller Steyer group targeting 12 congressional Democrats over impeachment Dems demand documents on Trump 'sanctuary city' plan MORE (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the coalition. “We need to address all of these issues in a fiscally responsible way that recognizes our nation’s unprecedented level of debt.”

Some progressives acknowledge that price tags could be problematic. One study estimated that Medicare for all could cost as much as $32 trillion.

“We’re beginning to look at real discussions about, budgetarily, what it means when we talk about Medicare for all,” Grijalva said. “I think at some point we’re going to have a vote on that, and it would probably be good to at least know what those figures are.”

There are other pressures on spending as well.

The White House plans on asking for a $75 billion increase in defense spending, though it plans to ask for most of that money to be allocated outside budget caps. That would leave Democrats searching for a different formula than the one they have been using in recent budget talks, where they have sought parity between increases in defense and nondefense caps.

Yarmuth said that with the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts baked in, the budget resolution will not be able to set a path toward a balanced budget in 10 years, a common goal when drafting the document.

“We’re going to try to get the deficit down, but there’s no way we can get to balance in a 10-year window,” he said. “I think most of us in the caucus are committed to making sure it doesn’t get worse. So that’s step one: quit digging.”

But progressives like Jayapal say that while party unity is important, they intend to push their agenda forcefully.

She also said she would consider withholding votes from a budget that doesn’t fulfill progressive priorities.

“Why would we give away all our leverage now by saying ‘absolutely not, no?’ ” she said.