Republican House Spending Plan Gets Cool Reception in Senate

By Kristina PetersonFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Senators from both parties poured cold water Tuesday on a House Republican plan that would fund the military through September while keeping the rest of the government running only into January.

Congress last week passed a two-week spending bill that will keep the government funded through Dec. 22. But lawmakers have yet to figure out what their next step will be to keep it running after next Friday.

Continue Reading Below

House Republicans are planning to pass legislation next week that would fully fund the military through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, while extending current funding for the rest of the government just into January.

Leaders negotiating a longer-term funding bill haven't agreed on how much to spend on non-defense items. The negotiations also are overshadowed by GOP leaders' push to quickly pass a tax overhaul bill.

But both Senate Republicans and Democrats said Tuesday the House strategy wouldn't work in their chamber. Spending bills need 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats.

"I suspect there would be a lot of support for that [approach] in the House and probably a good amount of support for that in the Senate, but it takes 60 [votes] over here, so in the end we have to deal with the Democrats," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of Senate GOP leadership, told reporters Tuesday. "They're going to have their priorities and issues they want addressed in the spending bill."

Democrats' biggest demand now is that Congress pass legislation lifting both military and non-military spending above levels established in 2011. Those curbs, known as the sequester, are set to kick in early next year, unless Congress passes a new law raising spending. Republicans have been eager to lift defense spending, while Democrats have insisted any increase in military funds should be matched on non-defense spending.

Without lifting those spending curbs, "everything, from our national defense to the fight against opioids to military preparedness to infrastructure will be underfunded," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday.

A group of 44 Senate Democrats sent a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis. ) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) urging them to reject a bill that would only provide long-term funding for defense.

The approach has the support of many House conservatives, who want to boost defense funding but cut spending elsewhere. They also want to reduce the leverage of Democrats, who know that keeping military and non-military spending together helps create must-pass legislation.

"We don't want a big increase in non-defense spending," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly three dozen of the most conservative House Republicans.

Senate Democrats urged Mr. Ryan to take a different approach -- or to at least make his move early enough for the Senate to reject it without setting off alarms over a possible government shutdown.

If the House were to pass a spending bill that couldn't clear the Senate and immediately leave town, as some have discussed, that could lead to a government shutdown.

"If Ryan insists on going on with this charade -- do it now, not at the 11th hour," Mr. Schumer said. "If they send it to us, it will fail quickly in the Senate. Then we could get back to negotiating a real bipartisan agreement."

Congressional leaders have been negotiating a budget deal that would raise the spending caps by $180 billion to $200 billion over two years. That discussion dominated their meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House last week, but no agreement has yet been reached.

Under current law, regular military spending is capped at $549 billion for fiscal year 2018, while nonmilitary spending is capped at $516 billion.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 12, 2017 17:51 ET (22:51 GMT)