McConnell Pushes House GOP on Budget

The Senate leader wants to devote three months to appropriations bills. Will Republicans be able to agree on a spending blueprint first?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
March 1, 2016, 8 p.m.

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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