House Republicans have set themselves up for a big fight with the White House over funding the federal government later this year — but their Senate counterparts aren’t exactly enthusiastic about it.
At a Thursday hearing to set federal funding levels for next year, 11 of 13 GOP appropriators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted to support capping annual spending at the level the parties agreed to during last summer’s fight over raising the debt limit. House Republicans, by contrast, were forced by their conservative members to lower that cap, in violation of the agreement, and on Wednesday prompted an early veto threat from the White House. The contretemps could easily lead to a government shutdown fight one month before the election — one Senate Republicans would apparently prefer to avoid.
In February, McConnell telegraphed his desire to avoid an election-year skirmish over funding the government in remarks on the Senate floor.
“We have negotiated the top line for the discretionary spending for this coming fiscal year,” he said. “That process is normally done by the passage of a budget by the House and a budget by the Senate, with some reconciliation between the two bodies on the top line. But we already have that number. I wish to second what my friend the majority leader said. There is no good reason for this institution not to move forward with an appropriations process that avoids what we have done so frequently under both parties for years and years: either continuing resolutions or omnibus appropriations.”
But at this point, punting on appropriations with a measure that extends funding past the election may be the GOP’s best option. A spokesman says McConnell continues to support capping funding at the agreed-upon level — $1.047 trillion — but would prefer to come in under the cap and will work toward that goal. House Republicans, on the other hand, want to foreclose on the idea of funding the government at the agreed-upon level. And unless they back down or punt, they’re going to run headlong into a White House determined to adhere to the debt-limit deal, and that wouldn’t mind seeing the country blame the GOP for a government shutdown a month before the election.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.