It’s normal for members of the House to urge the Senate to stop obstructing and move some bills. On Tuesday, the roles were reversed.
Still, a visit by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday did little to change the minds of House Republicans who want to turn course on the October budget deal in favor of a lower spending blueprint.
McConnell told members in a private House GOP meeting he wants to devote three months of Senate floor time to appropriations bills, but to do so he needs the House to send him legislation first, as required by the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 7, which states that revenue bills have to originate in the House.
He and House GOP leaders have been pushing for the lower chamber to pass a budget at $1.07 trillion, like the October agreement, so the two chambers would be working from the same numbers. Leaders even brought in Sen. James Lankford, a former Baptist youth minister and House member, who is now a Senate appropriator, to reassure his former colleagues that the Senate plans to move on the spending bills. Unfortunately for leaders, none of it seems to have worked.
“Senator McConnell was spot on. He understands his body has to get their work done,” Rep. Frank Lucas said. “That said, clearly there’s no consensus about how to address the budget resolution in the House or to begin the appropriations process or to get that work on the Senate appropriators’ desks.”
Part of the problem is that a large number of members are skeptical that the Senate would move on appropriations bills, and doubly skeptical of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s pledge last year to allow the bills to come to the floor. House Republicans’ continued indecision about how to move forward on the budget may come to a head Thursday, when they will meet again behind closed doors to discuss how, or indeed whether, to move forward.
Lucas said he understands why his colleagues are skeptical of the Senate, but he has been making the case that stalling the process would be a bad idea not just from a practical standpoint, but also politically. He said doing nothing would give any candidate—be it Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump—ammunition to run against an ineffectual Congress.
“Skepticism, I think, is a reflection of concern based on past precedent, and maybe a few of my colleagues would just as soon nothing be done and it makes their lives simpler,” he said. “But the United States Congress and the United States Senate are the goat of every presidential campaign, and will continue to be the goat of every presidential campaign into November if we don’t get our work done.”
But Rep. Trent Franks noted that members who are working on the presupposition that the Senate won’t move on any appropriations bills believe that the House should, at the very least, pass a budget that reflects the will of their chamber.
“We’ve waited perhaps too long to address this, but we still have to do the best we can,” Franks said. “If there is no chance—and it seems an enormous mountain to climb—to see all appropriations bills voted on, to keep this from being a fruitless endeavor it makes sense to probably vote for a budget that at least represents Republican priorities and a Republican vision.”
Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores has been among the voices advocating a lower House budget, and on Tuesday his group released its guidelines for what a spending plan should look like—including that it should reduce discretionary spending.
That the position is now official will make it even harder for leaders to peel off enough GOP votes to pass a budget at $1.07 trillion. That has some opening up the possibility of passing a budget at a lower number, even if it’s not perhaps as low as the House Freedom Caucus wants to go.
“We have to pass a budget. And we have to find a number that brings broad consensus to our members,” Republican Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer said. “To me, the most important number is 230-plus members voting for the budget. I still believe we’ll find a way to get that done.”
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