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Appropriators Hammer Out Spending Bills

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
From left: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Barrasso and Sen. Jeff Sessions make their way across the Capitol. McConnell and other GOP Senate leaders signaled last week that they support higher spending caps.

Boxed in by their Senate colleagues on one side and House conservatives on the other, House Republican leaders are starting the slow march toward the Budget Control Act without explicitly walking away from their own House-passed budget.

Members across the ideological spectrum agree: House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who wanted to stick to the BCA, and Budget Vice Chairman Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), who helped cut the budget cap to $1.028 trillion, said they anticipate a short-term continuing resolution in September at the BCA’s fiscal 2013 spending level of $1.047 trillion.

That eventuality was reinforced last week when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted for that spending mark in the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, and President Barack Obama threatened to veto bills that don’t adhere to the BCA.

In the meantime, however, Rogers is walking a fine line. He wants to pass all 12 spending bills, and he must pass at least some to have leverage in negotiations with the Senate over a continuing resolution. To do so, he needs House Democratic votes because many Republicans routinely vote against spending bills.

Appropriators will release subcommittee allocations this week, and within the topline number of $1.028 trillion, Rogers and his cardinals are front-loading some of the bills with modest spending cuts or even increases to lure Democrats. Others will likely have deep cuts to appease fiscal conservatives.

“These bills are going to be going up and down,” Rogers said. “We’ll have some bipartisan support on some of the bills, some we won’t. … And that’s the nature of this place — work with what you’ve got.”

Already, the Energy and water development spending bill got a bump from last year to $32.1 billion, and Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said he will support it. The Commerce, Justice and science bill was cut modestly, and those two bills’ funding resembles the Senate versions, marked up under a $1.047 trillion cap.

More bills with Republican priorities, such as Defense, Homeland Security and military construction and Veterans Affairs, may be funded akin to current levels. That will probably leave the brunt of the cuts with controversial bills covering the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, that approach could draw the ire of conservatives who, as one GOP aide put it, will “raise hell” if they suspect the committee of corralling spending cuts in bills that do not have a good chance of passing.

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