WASHINGTON — Republicans can avoid vetoes of their spending bills if they and Democrats strike a deal addressing federal spending caps, a senior Obama administration official said.
The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto any legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Congress that addressed future Pentagon budget caps but left ones governing domestic spending untouched.
Office of Management and Budget Chief Shaun Donovan, during a Bloomberg television interview, implied that Obama will veto bills with more for defense but not domestic programs when annual spending bills begin hitting his desk in a few months.
"The president has been very clear. He's drawn two red lines," Donovan said. "He is not going to accept a budget that puts sequestration in place that locks it in, and he's not going to accept a bill that fixes defense without bills that also fix the non-defense part of the budget."
Instead, Donovan said Republicans on Capitol Hill should start talks with Democrats about what's often called on Capitol Hill a "Ryan-Murray II" deal.
There is talk about trying to push through both chambers later this year a fiscal bill that would mirror the 2012 budget resolution crafted by then-House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and then-Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. That bill provided two years of relief from spending caps for defense and domestic programs. A Ryan-Murray II would do the same.
"The smart thing we should do is follow the bipartisan model we had two years ago, the Murray-Ryan deal, raise our investment on the non-defense side and the defense side of the budget on the discretionary side, and pay for it through smart reforms to our medical programs and to our tax system," Donovan said.
"That is what we did two years ago. We came together on a bipartisan basis," he said. "We can do it again. And that's what the president is asking Congress to do."
Both the House and Senate passed GOP-crafted 2016 budget resolutions that added around $40 billion to the Pentagon's war fund, a nod to defense hawks who say the military is underfunded.
The chambers' budget plans called for an overseas contingency operations (OCO) account of around $90 billion, up from the Obama administration's $50.9 billion request.
The Obama administration opposes the move, which is expected to be codified by House and Senate budget conferees working on a compromise version.
The congressional defense committees, however, are not waiting for the conference committee to produce a final 2016 budget blueprint.
The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday will mark up its 2016 national defense authorization act (NDAA) with the $90 billion war-fund level. That is setting up a showdown with Obama.
On Capitol Hill, recent news reports about bipartisan interest in a Ryan-Murray II deal has triggered whispers that a deal could get done late this summer or by early fall.
Senators told CongressWatch last week that several groups are "talking" behind the scenes about another spending cap-raising deal. But, so far, no group has released legislation.
And when the budget conferees met publicly last week, the first call for a follow-on Ryan-Murray II deal was not uttered until about 90 minutes into the session.
It came from Senate Budget Committee member Tim Kaine, D-Va., who called on the conference committee to produce a "serious" final spending blueprint. To Kaine, any "serious" measure would include a Ryan-Murray sequel, and would address what many see as a shortfall in annual Pentagon spending.
Kaine also sits on the Armed Services Committee, and said in a brief interview that he and the four other senators who sit on that panel and the Budget Committee are discussing a possible Ryan-Murray II framework.
Senior Democratic members in both chambers, however, dismiss any notion of a GOP-run Congress passing a bill that would raise domestic spending — even in order to give the Pentagon a year or two of additional budget relief.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat and the Appropriations Defense subcommittee chairman, and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Democrat Adam Smith of Washington have called the Ryan-Murray II whispers just "happy talk."