A House floor vote on spending caps could divide Democrats

As eager as Democrats are to raise spending caps, they don’t all agree on how much higher the new caps should be

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are seen outside the Supreme Court during a rally with Congressional Democrats on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House might vote this week on a bill to raise discretionary spending limits for the next two fiscal years.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer was hedging his bets late last week, saying only that a floor vote was “possible.”

[Expect a 'prolonged fight' over spending caps]

The Maryland Democrat’s cautious posture was understandable. As eager as Democrats are to raise spending caps that would force deep cuts in many programs they cherish, they don’t all agree on how much higher the new caps should be.

And with Republicans sure to vote in lockstep against the Democratic-written caps bill, a floor vote remained risky, since it could expose rifts among Democrats over fiscal policy.

The House Budget Committee approved the bill last week on a razor-thin margin of 19-17, with three Democrats joining all Republicans in opposition. One liberal Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna of California, had pushed unsuccessfully for an amendment to curb the growth in defense spending.

[Trump refuses to raise budget caps, complicating his re-election fight]

The bill written by House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth would add $360.8 billion to discretionary spending limits for the coming two fiscal years. As a result, for fiscal 2020, defense spending would increase by $17 billion over this year’s level, and nondefense spending would increase by $34 billion, not counting nearly $8 billion Democrats would exempt from the caps, mostly to carry out the 2020 Census.

The Kentucky Democrat said he was considering tweaks to the bill to allow for more nondefense spending by making additional funding for some programs exempt from the spending cap limitations. Whether those tweaks prove sufficient to avoid defections from his party’s liberal wing will determine the fate of a floor vote.

A vote by Wednesday appeared more likely than not. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to settle on a floor procedure for the bill at a meeting Monday.

The bottom line: With little room for error, Democrats are treading cautiously in their opening bid to raise spending caps.

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