McCarthy on collision course with Senate Democrats after latest budget pledge

Kevin McCarthy
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif. speaks to reporters outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik/AP

McCarthy on collision course with Senate Democrats after latest budget pledge

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) may have patched up his relationship with the Freedom Caucus, but a pledge he made to get there has him at odds with the Senate Democrats he needs to avoid a government shutdown.

Until Tuesday, the House had been in a weeklong standstill after a dozen conservatives revolted over a deal McCarthy struck with President Joe Biden to raise the debt ceiling. The speaker had promised to roll next year’s spending back to 2022 levels but only secured modest cuts in the agreement.

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McCarthy ended the impasse with a new deal, cut with the hard-liners who grudgingly allowed him to become speaker in January, to fulfill his pledge on 2022 spending as part of the appropriations process later this year.

But that very pledge sets McCarthy up for a familiar confrontation with Senate Democrats unlikely to go below the budget caps he agreed to in April.

Democrats for months insisted they would not negotiate with “hostage-taking” Republicans using the debt ceiling as leverage to rein in the federal budget. Biden relented from that stance in the face of Republican unity in both chambers, agreeing to what amounts to a two-year freeze in discretionary spending.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) signaled on Tuesday that House Republicans will have a difficult time extracting additional concessions as lawmakers craft their annual budgets.

“The bottom line is that I don’t think that would have much support in the Senate among Democrats or Republicans,” Schumer said in a press conference.

Although Democrats were dragged to the negotiating table in the debt ceiling fight, it’s Senate Republicans who are in some sense most unhappy with the compromise that emerged, feeling that it short-changes defense spending.

Only 17 Republicans joined most Democrats in getting the bill through the upper chamber. But first, Senate leadership had to agree to a side deal to plus-up defense as part of an aid supplemental for Ukraine.

McCarthy has already signaled opposition to that supplemental in a sign that Republican unity had ended with the threat of default lifted.

Both the House and Senate will mark up the 12 annual appropriations bills on separate tracks ahead of an end-of-September deadline to fund the government. The true fight, however, will be reconciling the two chambers’ budgets with the threat of a shutdown looming.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) downplayed the conflict in a Tuesday press conference, telling reporters, “At the end, we’ll have to work it out. But it’s not totally uncommon for these to be different as they move through the process, and I think that’s what’s probably going to happen this time.”

But Senate Democrats say there is no precedent for appropriating below the caps party leaders have agreed to. The deal McCarthy cut with the Freedom Caucus, they say, “reneges” on the deal he cut with the White House.

Senate Democrats want to bypass the caps for “emergency” spending Schumer hopes to pass later this year. He has cited the fentanyl epidemic and disaster relief as two areas where a supplemental bill could be needed.

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But the party views ignoring the top lines McCarthy set with Biden as undermining his credibility as speaker.

“The president settling negotiations with the speaker kept his word, and I think for the speaker to be a credible leader, he needs to keep his word,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a member of Democratic leadership, told the Washington Examiner.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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