Amid rumblings that House Republicans may break their end of a major budget agreement they struck with Democrats last fall, and possibly touch off another government shutdown battle later this year, a top Senate Democrat issued a stern warning to the GOP: Don’t go there.
“We had a deal last August on the budget numbers, and we expect them to live with that deal,” said Sen. Patty Murray (WA) — a member of the Democratic leadership, high-ranking member of the Budget Committee and erstwhile co-chair of the Super Committee — in an interview with TPM. “I have been astonished how many times they play with fire. Last August they almost shut the government down, a year ago they almost shut the government down, by trying to go to a place where most Americans don’t believe we should be going.”
The House GOP faces a trying dilemma. Leaders want to stick by federal spending levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act — better known to most as the debt-limit deal. But they’re having a hard time corralling conservative members, who want to cut much deeper into domestic programs. Passing a budget with lower spending caps would risk binding their appropriators to those levels — an outcome Senate Democrats will reject, and which could easily lead to an election-season government shutdown fight this September. The third option is to not pass a budget at all, which would be an embarrassment for House Republicans who have bashed Dems consistently for months for not passing a taxing-and-spending plan of their own.
Democrats are not taking lightly reports that House Republicans may cater to their more conservative members, thus breaking the GOP’s end of the bargain in the debt-limit law.
“I’ll tell you, it’s just astonishing to me that they can’t get their act together to support what they did last August,” Murray said. “That doesn’t bode very well for us moving forward in a bipartisan manner, between the House and the Senate, to move forward on the budget this year.”
Republican leaders have been chewing this over with their members behind closed doors. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Tuesday that there’s a deep-seated desire for “fiscal sanity” in his caucus, while Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) admitted he doesn’t know where the GOP will ultimately come down on the spending caps, according to Roll Call.
Multiple House GOP aides declined to comment for this article. But Democratic aides say they’re not encouraged by the signals they’re getting from the Republicans as of late.
Says one senior Senate Dem aide, “I think it would be a very bad sign for future negotiations if House Republicans cave to their most conservative members and renege on the BCA agreement so soon.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.