Budget Caps, Debt Limit Bill Expected to Pass House on Thursday

July 25, 2019by Kellie Mejdrich
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers expressed confidence Wednesday that the two-year budget and debt ceiling deal will pass in that chamber, though a furious whip effort was underway by both parties to clinch a strong bipartisan showing on the floor.

Late Wednesday afternoon, it became clear a large majority of Democrats were prepared to vote for the measure after Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders released a statement green-lighting the compromise budget caps measure.

“It’s not a perfect deal by any means. However, it will allow for major, long-overdue investments in domestic priorities — including housing assistance, food aid, education and job training,” caucus co-chairs Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Pramila Jayapal D-Wash., wrote in a joint statement.

Left-leaning lawmakers had expressed concerns earlier in the year when Democratic leaders tried to bring up a version that was more in line with liberal priorities.

But the progressives decided to back the new bipartisan deal despite allowing for more defense funding and less money for domestic and foreign assistance programs than the earlier bill, which never got a vote. They argued that it was worth removing the automatic spending cuts imposed by the 2011 debt ceiling and spending cuts law, even if it wouldn’t rein in a “bloated” defense budget.

The 26-page bill expected to get a House vote Thursday would increase discretionary spending limits by nearly $324 billion over two years, compared to the strict current caps imposed under the 2011 law.

President Donald Trump tweeted support for the package Tuesday, but many Republicans — and some Democrats — had been grumbling about the final product.

The lack of offsets is clearly upsetting for conservatives. Less than a quarter of the cost of increased spending, or $77.4 billion, would be paid for, and the savings wouldn’t kick in for about eight years. The offsets include an extension of fees on cargo and passengers arriving in the U.S. and automatic cuts to Medicare and other programs that are currently set to expire in 2027, measures which have been part of past bipartisan budget deals.

In one positive sign for House leaders, the top Budget Committee Republican, Steve Womack of Arkansas, said he was leaning toward supporting the measure.

Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, a senior appropriator and Rules Committee member, gave lukewarm praise for the bill, saying it “includes many more good provisions than bad ones.”

Cole allowed that as a result of the trade-offs backed by senior negotiators, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, leadership “will probably struggle a little bit on both sides of the aisle to get the votes that we need.” When asked if the votes would be there, Cole replied: “We will. I don’t know if we have them yet.”

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, chief sponsor of the legislation, said Wednesday that Democrats would have the necessary votes for the bill to pass though he hadn’t “made a whip count.”

Even Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and leader of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus opposed to the bill, told reporters he wasn’t going to put up a fight.

“So I think it passes,” Meadows said after noting Trump’s support.

Meadows had been at a White House meeting with the president earlier Wednesday. He added: “I’m not trying to get (Trump) to flip, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Lawmakers are eager to get budget caps in place so they can have a glide path for spending for the next two years. Looking forward, Yarmuth conceded that the deal means adopting a budget resolution in the House during the 2020 election year won’t be necessary.

“You would have to wonder why you would do it,” the House Budget chairman said. His chamber took a pass on adopting a budget this year as well, as did the Senate.

The Senate is expected to consider the two-year spending caps and debt limit bill next week before leaving for the annual August recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said Wednesday morning.

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(David Lerman and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.)

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