WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s attempt to placate Republican hardliners and get the House moving again after a recent party uprising has prompted some Democrats to warn of a difficult road ahead when it comes to passing legislation who keep the government going .
The Republicans gained votes last week weapons and further reproving one of former President Donald Trump’s most prominent critics, Rep. Adam Schiff (Democrat of California). These votes helped get the House of Representatives moving again, although the latter attempt failed as Schiff was supported by about 20 Republicans.
The most momentous move of the week, however, was a GOP leadership announcement that drew little attention. Republicans said they plan to advance budgets that fund government programs and agencies with less spending than the maximums they’ve agreed to act with the White House last month. This compromise prevented an unprecedented federal default.
McCarthy argued that the numbers he negotiated with the White House amounted to a ceiling and “there is always less that can be done.” Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who chairs the House Budget Committee, responded by issuing a statement saying she will seek to limit nondefense spending to the 2022 budget level with a ceiling, not a floor.”
The announcements cheered Republicans, who had criticized McCarthy (R-California) and opposed the debt ceiling legislation because they believed the agreement allowed for overspending. But it met immediate opposition from Democrats, who say an attempt to sidestep peak figures from the debt-ceiling agreement effectively guarantees a confrontation with the Senate and White House and possibly even a damaging government shutdown when funding expires in the fall.
“It’s a prelude to a shutdown — what they’re planning,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
The emerging momentum raises the potential for another round of economy-damaging risk-taking in Washington, just months after lawmakers narrowly avoided a damaging sovereign default.
Partial government closures have become increasingly common in modern times the longest came under President Donald Trump when he demanded money for a US-Mexico border wall. With President Joe Biden facing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on his re-election in 2024, and some conservatives openly dismissing the damage a shutdown can cause, the spending battle almost certainly looks poised to escalate.
Tensions created by Republicans’ push for further cuts in nondefense spending were highlighted at hearings of the House Budget Committee on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Democrats accused the Republicans in the House of Representatives of having broken their word. “Do you think any of us would have made a deal if we thought your number of 22 was the deal?” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) “What’s that deal? What kind of self-respect is that?
“They knew that wasn’t a cap,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Democrat of Florida). “Traditionally, we start here. Upper limits are not upper limits in our world. They are a starting point and then we negotiate based on the agreed numbers. It’s always been that way.”
But Republicans said McCarthy made it clear during the negotiations that spending needed to be cut from current levels.
“We can try to fool the American people with smoke and mirrors and pretend, but the speaker was clear. We are in a debt crisis in this country,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)
As part of the debt ceiling agreement, the White House said non-defense spending is expected to remain about the same next fiscal year and increase 1% the following year. Defense spending would increase by about 3.3% next year and 1% the following year. The Agreement to Curb Voluntary Spending does not include programs like Medicare and Social Security, which are considered mandatory spending.
Some Republicans have urged leadership not to bow to a minority within the conference.
“I think we really have to be careful that we don’t let a small part of our conference just keep slipping past pre-agreed issues,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). “This maximum amount was agreed in the (debt ceiling bill). Maybe they don’t like it. They expressed their displeasure last week. They’ve pretty much shut down the House of Representatives, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have to do it.”
Republicans only hold a five-seat majority in the House of Representatives, increasing the power a small bloc can hold. It only needed 11 members, mostly members of the House Freedom Caucus barn The House of Representatives will vote on legislation in early June, sending MPs home early. One of those 11, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), said moving to 2022 spending levels on non-defense programs will be good for Republican candidates in next year’s general election because voters are asking for it.
“Democrats have no interest in cutting spending,” Good said. “You have to be forced to do it. We should have used the debt ceiling to force them to cut spending. We should use the approval process to force them to cut spending. We should not be afraid of a government shutdown. Most of what we do up here is bad anyway.”
Many senators, both Democrat and Republican, didn’t seem as concerned about the possibility of a shutdown.
“This amount, which is troubling McCarthy, is irrelevant to the passage of budget proposals,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “When it comes to draft budgets, you have to form a coalition that doesn’t include the freedom caucus.”
“Ultimately, I believe we will resolve these issues,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.