The Senate has a message for the House: We already agreed we’re not cutting spending this year, get over it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the upper chamber plans to soon begin writing spending bills based on a bipartisan budget agreement reached in December that would boost spending this year by $30 billion. House conservatives are pushing their leaders to abandon that deal, which would greatly complicate the push by McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to pass as many of the 12 annual spending bills as possible this year ahead of the November elections.
Now, Senate Republicans’ patience is running thin with their House colleagues.
“We will be using the top line that was agreed to last year in order to move forward on the Senate appropriations bills,” McConnell told reporters.
McConnell’s decision means that the House will have to accept the terms of the 2015 budget agreement or start work on spending bills with a lower overall funding cap — a move that all but ensures another round of messy negotiations later this year over how to keep the government funded.
The announcement comes one day after a group of top Senate Democrats wrote McConnell urging him to move forward with the appropriations bills and offering their support s long as Republicans stick to the 2015 spending agreement.
Last week McConnell tried to warn House GOP members that failing to honor that deal would jeopardize the plan to vote on each of the spending bills individually this year as the party seeks to show it can handle Congress’ basic responsibilities without the budget drama of years past.
But House Republican leaders have been at odds for weeks with conservatives who want to either roll back the spending increases or force cuts to mandatory programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to offset the cost of the funding boost for the annual appropriations bills. What began as a protest from a small group of hardliners developed in recent weeks into as many as 200 Republicans from the House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee saying they refuse to back a budget without cuts.
Conservatives rejected a proposal from House leaders last week to set up a two-step process where members would vote to cut mandatory spending as a stand alone bill before voting on a budget blueprint that would have included the $30 billion in new spending.
House leaders have not given up on the possibility that they will be able to adopt a budget that sticks to the bipartisan agreement. House Budget Committee Republicans are considering holding a vote next week on a spending and tax plan, according to several aides. No specific date has been set and a committee vote not guarantee that the blueprint will be adopted on the floor.
McConnell would not say when the Senate spending bills will begin to move, but said he is “pretty optimistic” about progress in the Senate and that the plan is to move forward even if House Republicans use a different overall spending plan.
“Regardless, we have the top line for this year and we are going to go forward with appropriations,” McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that Democrats do not plan to block the spending bills if Republicans maintain equal funding for military and domestic programs and steer clear of adding to the bills any controversial political policies, such as cutting off funding for the Affordable Care Act or blocking Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
McConnell did not rule out any “poison pill” amendments, but said he does not expect Democrats will block the appropriations bills.
“Now that we’ve agreed on a top line for this year they’re straining for another reason to obstruct,” McConnell said. “I think we’re going to have a pretty successful appropriations process.”