Two of the most fiscally conservative senators are pushing their colleagues to oppose a House-proposed stopgap spending bill that would keep spending flat.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake made his pitch in a floor speech Wednesday, with Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn following on Thursday with a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Under the 2011 debt limit deal that created the budget sequester, spending for fiscal 2014 should be $967 billion, but House Republicans have offered to fund the government closer to this year's $988 billion level.
"As you know, fiscal year 2014 is the last year discretionary spending will actually be reduced as a result of the Budget Control Act," Coburn wrote. "After next year, the law allows discretionary spending to once again increase annually. Removing the spending restrains for 2014 would, therefore, make a mockery of the agreement to restrain spending because spending would have only been reduced for one year."
"As so often happens this time of year, talk is turning to the need for a continuing resolution for at least part of the next year, and I urge my colleagues to join me pushing for a 'CR' that respects the commitments that we have already made," Flake said Wednesday on the Senate floor, noting that a CR level above $967 billion would trigger another set of sequester-imposed automatic cuts.
"I can see why there are those who would want to take such action. Passing a CR at a higher-than-BCA-appropriate level will create yet another fiscal cliff, with the hopes — I'm sure — of causing enough pressure to finally do away with the sequester," Flake said, referring to the Budget Control Act. "That's what some would like. However, such a scenario does little to add pressure to address the sequester; it provides a pretense that the BCA levels don't mean anything if even for a short while; and it further complicates agencies implementing what are sure to be the required cuts."
Following Flake and Coburn would require opposing the continuing resolution drafted by the House Appropriations Committee, which is set at a $986.3 billion level, which comes in above the $967 billion Budget Control Act number. Work continues in the House to find a way forward on the stopgap measure after House consideration was put off until next week.
Senate appropriators have written bills assuming a fix to turn off the automatic sequester cuts, while the GOP-led House broke through the caps on security and defense spending in their versions of fiscal 2014 bills. Several Senate GOP appropriators have already pledged to oppose any bills in excess of the $967 billion level.
Much of the attention in the spending debate has focused on efforts by some Republicans in each chamber to oppose a CR unless it defunds Obamacare, but the disagreement over budget levels shouldn't be undersold. Coburn is among the Republicans who has publicly opposed the tactic of trying to force a CR to block funding for the health care overhaul.
When a reporter asked Reid if a budget level akin to the one in the House CR would be acceptable for Senate Democrats, Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., jumped in.
"Essentially, that is the correct question. That is what we should be talking about right now, is what number we are willing to keep the government open at," Murray said. "I wish that was the number that we were sitting down and negotiating over and not over whether they're going to repeal Obamacare or shut down the government or do whatever else they're going to do to create a crisis."
Murray will undoubtedly oppose the budget levels that Flake and Coburn want to see take effect, of course.
Text of the letter from Coburn to Reid and Boehner appears below:
Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid,
Americas are fed up with Congress’ inability to keep its promises and control spending. Just two years ago, we committed to the taxpayers and each other to begin an era of fiscal restraint with passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and already efforts are underway to unravel that agreement.
As the only major bipartisan deficit reduction bargain in the last fifteen years, the Budget Control Act provided a ten year blue print to restrain federal spending, accepted in exchange for a $2 trillion increase in the national debt limit. The balanced compromise reduced both defense and non-defense spending, but for only two years. Under the bipartisan agreement, total discretionary spending in FY 2014 is capped at $967 billion. Most of this spending would still be financed with borrowed money as the deficit for the year is still projected to be $560 billion.
As you know, fiscal year 2014 is the last year discretionary spending will actually be reduced as a result of the Budget Control Act. After next year, the law allows discretionary spending to once again increase annually. Removing the spending restrains for 2014 would, therefore, make a mockery of the agreement to restrain spending because spending would have only be reduced for one year.
This is an all too familiar Washington narrative that explains why our national debt is nearly $17 trillion. Just today, the Congressional Budget Office revealed the initial House CR would exceed the current spending limits by $19 billion. Congress cannot break its commitment to restrain spending while expecting another debt limit increase to pay for its broken promises with even more borrowed money.
We reject the temptation of any short term political victory that paves the way for bigger debt, bigger borrowing, and bigger government. Therefore, we absolutely oppose any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that would increase spending above the levels provided under the Budget Control Act. Furthermore, if Congress cannot keep its word to control spending as agreed to in the bipartisan Budget Control Act, we will not agree to additional increases in the debt limit. We do not need another bipartisan agreement to increase spending and borrowing.