House Republican aides added Monday evening that Obama would not possibly risk shutting down the government to achieve a grand bargain on a variety of outstanding economic issues. The two House appropriations bills coming to the floor this week also have bipartisan support and would fund military operations and veterans benefits — the latter of which has been touted by both parties in recent weeks as a key legislative priority the government must address, particularly backlogged requests for services within the Veterans’ Affairs department.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats were not surprised by the administration’s veto announcement but are still negotiating how to move forward. They want maximum leverage heading into the inevitable debt limit battle House Republicans seem determined to pick.
In January, the GOP suspended its demand for cuts in exchange for a debt limit extension because Republicans said they believed they could maximize their position for more cuts on a delayed timeline. To be sure, Obama had previously said he wouldn’t negotiate around the debt ceiling only to later back down and do so.
On the other hand, Senate Democrats also want to give new Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland room to negotiate a larger appropriations agreement with her GOP counterpart, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.
Of course, even if leaders say they are deferring to Mikulski, tying the debt limit to a larger spending blueprint would likely hamstring Senate appropriators. The last time Congress approved any appropriations bills outside of a continuing resolution was for fiscal 2012, when they approved a handful of “mini-buses” in addition to a larger continuing resolution that bundled the majority of spending provisions.
The Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill is typically noncontroversial enough that both chambers can approve it outside a larger spending framework. Threatening to veto individual and less controversial spending bills complicates Mikulski’s negotiations but sends a clear signal that Obama is looking to solve problems caused by the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. Aides to Mikulski said she supports the president’s requested spending levels.
Rogers, too, believes that his current responsibility is to continue facilitating regular order.
“They would like to see all the bills marked at the higher level,” he said, “but ... I have to appropriate to the House-passed budget, which is what we’re doing.”
The House’s budget, as envisioned by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., mandates discretionary spending at lower levels than Democrats would like.
Some Democrats indicated on Monday that despite any reservations they might have with those spending levels, they, too, would continue to support moving the appropriations measures through the legislative pipeline despite veto threats.
“There are three branches of this government, and of course we are the legislative branch and we are constitutionally charged with appropriating, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
As for how he might reconcile the “business as usual” philosophy with Obama’s positions, Bishop said simply, “We’ll work it out.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.