House Republicans moved forward this week with plans to write spending bills even if, for now, it looks like they’re headed straight down a dead-end street.
A House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday approved, by voice vote, the first spending bill of the year, a popular measure that funds veterans programs, despite an ongoing budget battle with conservatives over spending levels. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t plan to hold floor votes on the appropriations bills until the budget standoff is resolved.
“No, we need to do a budget,” Ryan said.
Ryan and other GOP leaders have vowed to stick to a bipartisan two-year spending agreement that was agreed to last year. Conservatives, however, continue to say they will block a budget blueprint approved last week by the Budget Committee because the spending cap is too high.
Neither side is willing to budge, leaving the entire spending process in limbo.
Failing to adopt a budget, which lays the groundwork for the year’s spending and tax policy legislation, means that it will be nearly impossible for the House to vote before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 on the detailed bills that stipulate exactly how federal agencies are funded. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he plans to keep writing the bills under the assumption that last year’s spending agreement stands, but for now he is powerless to bring them to the floor without a budget or leadership’s consent.
“In essence we passed this year’s budget last year,” Rogers said in an interview. “It is in the law and if there’s nothing that supersedes it we will mark up to the law.”
The longer the House waits the more likely it is that Congress will be forced to pass a stop-gap spending bill this summer in order to keep agencies funded at current levels through the election. That short-term punt would provide just enough time for leaders to craft during a “lame-duck” session another massive year-end spending package that Republicans have derided in the past.
Ryan made clear last week that he doesn’t plan to twist members’ arms to get the support he needs to adopt a budget — leaving Rogers to continue his work in hopes that conservatives come around or leaders craft some other path forward. One option is to wait until May 15 when leaders can elect to bring the bills to the floor even if the annual budget resolution has not been adopted.
Democrats have chided House Republicans for not being able to adopt a budget, after year’s of being on the end of GOP criticism when the then Democratically controlled Congress struggled to agree on a fiscal plan.
On Wednesday, Democrats on the Appropriations Committee expressed dismay that despite the successful vote on the $81.6 billion fiscal 2017 veterans bill, little will happen on the floor without the approval of a budget.
“I don’t know the majority’s path forward,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the committee.
It would be difficult in any year for the House to vote on all 12 annual spending bills between May 15 and the Sept. 30 deadline — a task made more daunting this year when Congress is scheduled to be out of session for much of July to attend the party’s presidential conventions.
Rogers said that the shortened time frame would make his task difficult, but not impossible.
“It would make it really, really tough,” Rogers said. “We’re moving ahead regardless.”