Schumer: Fix Sequester or We’ll Block Approps Bills

Democrats fear the GOP will raise the caps for defense but not domestic spending.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), center, with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), left, speaks at a press conference to urge the House to enact immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol on May 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. Senate democrats called out House Speaker John Boehner for letting nearly a year pass without taking action since the Senate sent over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill.
National Journal
April 28, 2015, 1:42 p.m.

The new Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity is pre­par­ing to pass its budget as soon as this week, fi­nally giv­ing the green light to ap­pro­pri­at­ors to be­gin fund­ing the gov­ern­ment be­fore their Oc­to­ber 1 dead­line and an­oth­er fed­er­al shut­down.

But already Demo­crats are say­ing they won’t go along with Re­pub­lic­ans’ fund­ing plans.

Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, the cur­rent No. 3 in Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship and Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id’s hand­picked re­place­ment, threatened Tues­day to block all fund­ing bills un­til Re­pub­lic­ans agree to do something about the dreaded se­quester.

“We’re put­ting them on no­tice,” Schu­mer said in a press con­fer­ence Tues­day. “Re­pub­lic­ans should be warned right here, right now, Demo­crats are not go­ing to help you pass ap­pro­pri­ations bills that lock in sense­less, auto­mat­ic­ally triggered cuts that hurt the middle class.”

Con­gress has long hated the se­quest­ra­tion caps, which will again take ef­fect early next year, pre­vent­ing in­creases in spend­ing for both de­fense and nondefense pro­grams. But Demo­crats are ter­ri­fied that Re­pub­lic­ans will only ad­just the caps for de­fense pro­grams, as they fore­cast in their com­prom­ise budget deal (the fi­nal de­tails of which were still be­ing worked out late Tues­day). It’s a dif­fi­cult bar­gain giv­en that they’ll need at least six Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors, not to men­tion Pres­id­ent Obama, to agree to do so, but it’s a pos­sib­il­ity non­ethe­less, par­tic­u­larly if an­oth­er fed­er­al shut­down is on the line.

And so, Schu­mer is lay­ing down the law early. Re­pub­lic­ans will need six of his con­fer­ence’s mem­bers to pass any fund­ing bills, just as they’ll need at least six to deal with se­quest­ra­tion. And they now have just over four months to thread those needles.

That won’t be pop­u­lar with Re­pub­lic­ans in either cham­ber, who have proudly touted that they’re be­gin­ning the of­ten rushed ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess earli­er this year than Con­gress has in sev­er­al dec­ades. The House is set to be­gin tak­ing up its fund­ing bills this week, with the Sen­ate plan­ning to fol­low soon after, hop­ing to give ap­pro­pri­at­ors time to com­plete all 12 spend­ing bills and pass them through both cham­bers. Con­gress hasn’t done that since 2002, and they haven’t done it on time since 1997, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice.

Schu­mer aimed high with his ask on Tues­day, telling Re­pub­lic­ans to provide Demo­crats with a deal that would raise the spend­ing caps evenly. “One dol­lar for de­fense, one dol­lar for the middle class,” he said.

“I think that’s been their po­s­i­tion for a num­ber of years, so it’s cer­tainly not sur­pris­ing,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said when asked about the dol­lar-for-dol­lar de­mand at his own press con­fer­ence minutes later.

The ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess will be open to amend­ment, Mc­Con­nell noted, and Demo­crats can “make their com­plaints” there. “I’m sure the Demo­crats will com­plain—as they did to you a few mo­ments ago—that we’re not spend­ing enough on the do­mest­ic side. But all of that could be sor­ted out in the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess,” he said.

But al­ter­ing the se­quest­ra­tion caps will re­quire a grand bar­gain that’s un­likely to be re­solved in a single ap­pro­pri­ations bill or amend­ment.

Ab­sent a deal, Schu­mer vowed that Re­pub­lic­ans will “find Demo­crats stand­ing shoulder to shoulder [on] both ends of Pennsylvania Av­en­ue to stop them. But in­stead, if Re­pub­lic­ans reach out to Demo­crats to work to pre­vent—in a bal­anced way—these cuts from harm­ing our eco­nomy, they’ll find an out­stretched hand.”

Re­pub­lic­ans have shown some signs that they’re open to a deal with Demo­crats on se­quest­ra­tion. The ac­tion is largely in the Sen­ate, where mem­bers are more in­tim­ately fa­mil­i­ar with the power of a united minor­ity (see: the hu­man-traf­fick­ing bill).

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Lind­sey Gra­ham, and Ro­ger Wick­er, all of whom are push­ing strongly to al­le­vi­ate the caps on de­fense spend­ing, have already en­gaged in talks with mem­bers of the minor­ity in­clud­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Tim Kaine and in­de­pend­ent Sen. An­gus King, to find a solu­tion. And Sen­ate Budget Chair­man Mi­chael En­zi left in place a small pro­vi­sion in his cham­ber’s budget doc­u­ment that could be the first step to­ward a se­quest­ra­tion deal on de­fense and nondefense spend­ing as well.

Just last week, House Speak­er John Boehner also left the door open to a deal, telling re­port­ers that, “if there’s a way to re­duce man­dat­ory spend­ing in a way that would provide re­lief to the se­quester, like we did with the Ry­an-Mur­ray budget plan, have at it.”

“That could hap­pen again,” Boehner said, when pressed on the pos­sib­il­ity of an­oth­er Ry­an-Mur­ray-type deal. But the speak­er re­mained cau­tious.

“If such an ef­fort is called for in a budget agree­ment and if such an ef­fort can get off the ground, hope springs etern­al,” he said.

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