The abrupt postponement Wednesday by House leaders of a vote on their $44.1 billion transportation funding bill was a dramatic public airing of some internal dirty linen: The GOP is in disarray over the repercussions of its proposed deep funding cuts to domestic programs.
In an unusually sharp statement after the decision, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said vote counts made passage appear difficult. “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago,” he fumed.
“I believe that the House has made its choice: Sequestration—and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts—must be brought to an end,” he said.
A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, referred questions to the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who officially sets the floor schedule. A Cantor spokeswoman said in an e-mail, “This week has gotten busier than expected with the number of amendments being offered and limited time remaining for a full debate so we’re going to finish the bill when we return” from the August recess.
Democrats were quick to criticize.
“We can’t say we’re surprised since we’ve been warning them about the impact of these drastic cuts for months,” declared a statement released by the office of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “Here’s a thought for our friends across the aisle: Maybe it’s time to compromise, since doing it on your own clearly isn’t working.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said, “This is budget ideology colliding with budget reality.”
The Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill—THUD for short—is just one of the 12 annual spending bills for the new fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Rogers noted that it was the first major attempt by the House to consider and pass a spending bill “that funds domestic programs under the austere level delineated under the  Budget Control Act and the House-passed budget resolution for 2014.”
Yet there were signs of problems earlier. Last week, Rogers had to suddenly postpone a scheduled subcommittee markup on the $122 billion Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending measure. Democrats on that panel said they understood the markup was postponed because some Republicans—moderates and conservatives—simply could not get behind the lower funding levels for some items such as mental-health programs for children and cancer research. Some Republicans, the committee Democrats say, determined they might have trouble defending the cuts in districts over the August recess.
In addition, the Appropriations Committee has been having difficulty hashing out a $24.3 billion Interior and Environment spending measure for fiscal 2014, also complicated by deep GOP spending reductions.
In his statement, Rogers suggested that even if a vote is rescheduled, it is unlikely that the transportation spending bill, as written, could be passed. There are only nine scheduled legislative days in the House during September, after the August recess and before the start of the new fiscal year.
“The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon,” Rogers said.
While House spending bills have reflected sequestration, the Senate has been crafting its bills with higher, pre-sequester caps. But Rogers said he believes it “is also clear that the higher funding levels advocated by the Senate are also simply not achievable in this Congress.”
He said that means government programs—not just those on the discretionary side of the ledger—“must be dealt with.”
“Spending reductions in mandatory and entitlement programs, which are the drivers of our deficits and debt, are the most effective way to enact meaningful change in the trajectory of federal spending,” he said.
Rogers also said he believes the House, Senate, and White House must come together as soon as possible “on a comprehensive compromise.” He described that as one that “repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic top-line discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible—and attainable—way.”
This article appears in the August 1, 2013, edition of NJ Daily as GOP Budget Turmoil Lands With a THUD.