Senate Republicans are beginning to signal that the top-line spending level in the House's stopgap spending bill is higher than they'd like.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune said Republicans in his chamber prefer writing appropriations bills at the lower $967 billion level featured in an alternative continuing resolution and spending measure floated by a number of House Republicans. A $967 billion spending level could be structured in such a way as to avoid sequester cuts under the Budget Control Act.
"We would prefer the number be at the BCA level over here, I mean that's kind of the Senate Republican position," Thune said. He stopped short of saying there would be GOP opposition to the CR over the spending level, however.
The plan announced Wednesday morning by House GOP leaders would set the top spending level at roughly $986 billion and run through mid-December. That's basically the same level that had been floated previously.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the top Republican appropriator in the Senate, noted one potential problem with the House spending level after hearing the details Wednesday morning.
"That would probably have to be adjusted down until, unless you repeal the sequester," the Alabama Republican said. "Let's see how it works. ... Where are they going to get the money?"
Because the fiscal 2014 sequester wouldn't kick in until the beginning of calendar year 2014, the government could run at the higher level contained in the House proposal without issue for the remainder of 2013, only to face more substantial cutbacks in subsequent appropriations.
Shelby has been among the Republicans consistently opposing spending bills at the Senate Appropriations Committee, citing similar concerns with the higher spending level favored by Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and panel Democrats.
The same Republicans seem much less concerned about the House's decision to include language defunding the 2010 health care law. There's every expectation that Republican senators will insist on a 60-vote threshold for any move to strip the defund Obamacare provisions out of the House bill, but there also seems to be a recognition that no bill is going to pass the Senate with that defunding language in it.
"Democrats are not going to agree to defund or delay health care reform. It's just not going to happen," Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., is planning to say in a floor speech later today, according to excerpts provided by her office. "We should all be working together right now to make sure it is implemented in the best possible way for our families, businesses, and communities. And we are certainly very interested in hearing from anyone — Democrat or Republican — who has good ideas about ways the law can be improved."
"I think it's a perfectly ... reasonable place for them to try and get consensus to get 218 votes in the House, and then it will come over here and we'll see what happens with it," Thune said. "The prospect of voting on a 'clean' CR is probably somewhat of a remote one. It's hard to say what the Dems might do over here yet. I think there's just a lot of hands left to play."
"The House had to come up with a strategy. They had to figure out how to put together the necessary critical mass to pass something over there," Thune said.
"I have voted consistently to defund Obamacare on Appropriations ... and I wish we could," Shelby said. "In the meantime, let's see what comes up — how it's configured."