WASHINGTON — House Republicans are pressing Democrats to accept a debt ceiling bill that limits the amount of money Congress can spend next year.
But achieving that goal, and making it stick, would require breaking a deadlock between the two parties that has persisted for more than a decade: how to divvy up spending between military and domestic priorities.
Republicans want more defense spending, and Democrats want more money for non-defense programs like health care, education and veterans’ aid. In recent years, the two sides have come to a détente: just raise both and everyone gets a win.
Now House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and his conservative allies want to break that pact, arguing that spending is out of control. But slashing national funding without touching the military, as many Republicans want to do, won’t work for Democrats.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, said defense spending should be avoided because «it’s a very dangerous world right now.»
“Look, I think threats set defense spending. Household priorities are needs and wants, but you don’t necessarily get everything. Defense is, for me, a very different level of commitment,” she said.
The Democrats made it clear that they want equal treatment between the two.
“There is some parity between defense and non-defense spending,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “And that is an issue that is important in our caucus.”
Ahead of an expected meeting between President Joe Biden and congressional leaders this week, Republican lawmakers say an agreement on «spending limits» is important to secure their support to avoid a dangerous debt default.
The House-passed debt ceiling bill would reduce federal spending to fiscal year 2022 levels, requiring appropriators tasked with allocating government funds to cut $131 billion compared to what Congress is currently spending. .
Hitting that goal without cutting defense funding would require a hefty 17% cut in non-defense discretionary spending.
“Democrats will not let non-defense activities take a disproportionate share of deep cuts. So Republicans will have to moderate their demands for cuts if they want to avoid defense,” said Brian Riedl, a former Senate Republican policy adviser who now works at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative public policy think tank.
Riedl said they may be able to avoid the dispute by freezing spending rather than cutting, suggesting «a two-year freeze» on federal spending as a possible endgame.
Republicans have avoided specifying what they would cut, other than suggesting they might avoid cuts to military spending. When the White House argued that the House GOP debt ceiling bill, with its lack of specificity in spending cuts, would mean damaging cuts to veterans’ funding in the non-debt portion of the budget defense, Republican leaders insisted they could also avoid cuts to veterans.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., dismissed that bill as «America’s Default Act» and insisted that the debt limit and government funding be handled accordingly. independently.
“This is too important for brinkmanship and reckless ultimatums,” Schumer wrote in a letter Friday. «The White House staff, along with assistants from my office, the Office of the Speaker, the office of Leader McConnell, and the office of Leader Jeffries will continue to meet in an attempt to find a constructive way forward.»
McConnell is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky; Jeffries is House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y.
Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist who analyzes legislative dynamics, said the two sides could agree to impose a spending cap for just one year. They could also agree on policy targets before announcing an exact spending number. He suggested they could combine the cuts with policies seen as generating «savings» and «growth.»
“Once you agree on the policy parameters, it becomes much easier: an agreement on frontline spending for at least a year, savings from unused Covid funds, a commitment to work to enable [reform] or some other growth-oriented areas of mutual interest,” Donovan said.