Senate Democrats are pressuring their Republican colleagues to begin writing spending bills and they don’t want to wait until the House GOP solves its own budget battle before getting started.
A group of top Democrats sent a letter Monday calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to encourage the Senate Appropriations Committee to begin writing spending bills based on the two-year budget agreement reached last year. McConnell has made passing all 12 spending bills a key goal — by signaling a willingness to participate in the budget process Democrats make it harder for conservatives to back out of plans to increase spending by $30 billion.
The Senate has been waiting for House GOP leaders to resolve a weeks-long battle with conservatives who are threatening to block any budget that includes the additional spending, which was part of the bipartisan budget deal passed last year. Democrats don’t want to take the chance that GOP leaders could cave in to demands to cut spending or that Congress runs out of time to fund the government before the presidential conventions in July.
Democrats have reason to worry that the fight in the House could slow things down in the Senate. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) announced Monday that his committee is postponing consideration of the annual budget blueprint, which sets the spending cap, in a move that underscores how Senate GOP leaders are trying to avoid the same fight that is bogging down progress in the House on the annual appropriations bills.
Enzi downplayed the seriousness of his decision, arguing the Senate is ready to move on spending bill even without an annual budget resolution.
“The Senate already has top-line numbers and budget enforcement features available this year so that a regular order appropriations process can move forward while we continue to discuss broader budget challenges,” Enzi said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined Sens. Charles E. Schumer, (D-N.Y.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Barbara Mikulski, (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, in urging McConnell to move ahead with the appropriations process. They also urged Republicans to avoid adding any politically motivated measured to the spending bills that could derail them, like defunding Planned Parenthood or rolling back environmental regulations.
“Honoring those principles will allow us to pick up where we left off and make significant strides toward returning to regular order by completing a full appropriations process,” the group wrote.
McConnell said in a statement that he welcomed the letter.
“I’m glad that Senate Democrats share my goal of considering appropriations bills in an expeditious fashion through the regular order,” he said. “Earlier this year, I asked the Appropriations Committee to accelerate their work so that we can be ready to consider individual bills as soon as mid-April.”
McConnell told House Republicans last week that he is willing to spend three months considering the spending bills. But that process needs to start in the House, where Republicans are deadlocked over the increased spending.
McConnell spent just over an hour talking about the budget at a weekly House GOP strategy session but skeptical conservatives were not moved. Days later, hard-line conservatives rejected the latest budget offer from GOP leaders.
The 2015 budget framework allows the Senate to quickly adopt a $1.07 trillion spending target if Congress cannot pass a budget by April 15 — but Democrats don’t want to wait for that time to run out. The letter cites concerns that waiting that long could make it difficult for the Senate to complete all 12 regular appropriations bills before the Sept. 30 fiscal year-end deadline.
“Even relatively non-controversial appropriations bills easily can take a week or more of the Senate’s time,” the letter said.
The letter could also help Democrats avoid taking blame if the spending process fails by signaling early on they have no plans to make the process difficult for McConnell.
Reid has also been clear in recent weeks that he does not plan to block the spending bills over unrelated political controversies like President Obama’s expected nominee for the Supreme Court.
Democrats could still filibuster the spending bills if Republicans try to attach political measures like defunding Obamacare or blocking Obama’s executive orders on immigration.