Next week, we'll be watching to see whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell makes a rare appearance in his seat at the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Kentucky Republican is a longtime member of the panel, where he used to be the top GOP senator on the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. While he's maintained his post on the committee, he often doesn't personally attend meetings because of his job as party leader.
But next Thursday morning, Senate appropriators are scheduled to meet to approve the fiscal 2014 Military Construction-VA spending bill, along with the all-important chart of numbers that tells Appropriations subcommittees how much money they have available — what in budget parlance is known as the 302(b) allocations.
Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., will be marking up a plan for dividing $1.058 trillion among her committee’s dozen bills.
McConnell and other GOP appropriators, including ranking member Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, already have said they can't back her 302(b) levels, likely forcing Mikulski to start off work for the once highly collegial committee with a partisan vote on the framework for its fiscal 2014 bills.
Typically, McConnell might cast a proxy vote through ranking member Shelby.
However, McConnell made an unexpected appearance at the 2010 markup of the Senate 302(b) plan, one of the first clear signs of how deeply Congress would soon be enmeshed in budget battles.
If McConnell does appear, Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., might get something of a consolation prize for her as-yet-unsuccessful bid to get Republicans to agree to work publicly on a budget resolution.
Both sides may find cause to relish another venue for public debate on spending levels.
At the 2010 Appropriations markup, then-Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, attempted to bargain with his GOP colleagues. While the House was proceeding with a $1.121 trillion cap for fiscal 2011, Inouye agreed to work with a $1.114 trillion one. But GOP appropriators, led by McConnell, held firm on a lower one, insisting that their constituents were demanding cuts. Helping McConnell that day was Robert F. Bennett of Utah, a veteran GOP appropriator who had suffered a defeat in his re-election bid at the state party convention.
Our CQ Roll Call colleague Humberto Sanchez recalled the incident in a 2011 story following a rare interview with Inouye:
[Inouye] was surprised when, shortly before the markup, he received a letter informing him that committee Republicans — including ranking member That Cochran (Miss.) — were not going to support his proposal as he assumed they would.
Inouye held off on advancing his next set of spending bills until Democratic and Republican leaders reached an agreement on the spending cap through the budget law that allowed for the 2011 debt limit increase.