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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.

“We have a history of pointing out the hypocrisy of front-loading and how it leads to higher spending,” the aide said. “They underfund the later bills, people get outraged when we get to them, they get plussed-up, then the overall spending is higher.”

Rep. Mick Mulvaney said that happened with the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill last year, and he hopes history will not repeat itself.

“That would be extraordinarily disappointing and something we’d have to talk about with leadership because we were told that wouldn’t happen this year,” the South Carolina Republican said.

Similarly, the Obama administration warned Rogers against front-loading bills in a letter from Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients, in which he said the House’s budget resolution allows for only two options.

“Every appropriations bill will provide inadequate funding, or some bills will provide adequate funding so that other bills will face even deeper, more problematic cuts,” he wrote. “Both approaches break last summer’s agreement, and neither is acceptable.”

Still, Garrett, a leader within the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he can support the bills with the assumption that a short-term CR will ensure the $1.047 trillion spending level is not locked in for a full year. If presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney beats Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) loses his majority, Republicans can cut even more spending, he said.

“The best win is a short-term. Let’s start in January,” he said. “You’re hoping for Romney coming in, and you’re hoping that Reid is being replaced, and you’re hoping that we’re making substantive changes.”

In the Senate, Democrats rejoiced when McConnell joined all but two of the 14 Republican appropriators at last week’s committee markup to vote for the BCA spending levels, a move Democrats said united Senate Republicans with Democrats against the House GOP budget.

But Senate Republicans rejected that characterization and said their vote was prompted by an effort to get the fiscal 2013 spending bills to conference, where the House GOP majority would work to cut spending below the BCA level.

Republicans have argued that the limits function as caps, above which appropriators cannot spend. However, Congress is permitted to spend below the levels if savings can be found, and a spokesman for McConnell said not to interpret his vote as an endorsement of spending all the way up to the limit.

“The Leader supports any effort to spend less than the maximum allowed, and Thursday’s vote prevents Democrats from spending any more than the BCA-agreed ceiling,” a McConnell spokesman said. “And we’d like to get these bills into conference with the House so that the conversation on reducing spending can begin.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Appropriation Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, said Thursday that she believes “while we have these caps that are now adopted, I think we will all be looking how we can achieve further savings.”

A Senate Democratic aide said Friday that the vote amounted to a “welcome rebuke of the House Republican budget.”

“It’s fine by us if they want to distance themselves from the vote, but nevertheless their votes were with us,” the aide said.

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