WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday lifted an overall spending cap to $1.3 trillion to allow its appropriators to craft 2020 spending bills.
The measure, which codified a $733 billion top-line for national defense in fiscal 2020, passed 219-201. Seven Democrats voted “no.”
Technically, the House adopted a “deeming resolution” as part of a rule for floor debate on a related bill to lift budget caps for defense and non-defense in 2020 and 2021.
House Democratic leaders decided Tuesday to shelve that bill to avoid airing intra-party divisions over military spending, which also means they will not have a strong vote to take into soon-to-start budget negotiations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that he is in talks with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-N.Y., on the possibility of a two-year caps deal. They’ve put together a “staff level” group, he said.
McConnell described a “bipartisan desire” to avoid another stopgap continuing resolution and $126 billon in automatic cuts if Congress fails to lift budget caps.
“So, I’m hoping that this will be the beginning of a bipartisan agreement, which will be necessary, in order to have an orderly appropriations process not only this year, but next year as well,” he said.
The House bill scuttled Tuesday aimed to reset spending limits for defense at $733 billion for fiscal 2020 and $749 billion for fiscal 2020. The non-defense side of the budget also would come in well above statutory budget caps, at $631 billion and $646 billion, respectively.
The defense spending number reflects Democratic pragmatism, but the overall proposal put party leaders at odds with Senate Republicans and the White House, who both want to keep non-defense spending close to the cap level. The proposal also alienated progressive Democrats, who wanted to boost domestic spending and lower defense spending.
“The most important task in front of us right now is to raise sequestration caps to stop extreme cuts from being implemented, ensuring that we can make the needed investments in our national and economic security,” the bill’s co-sponsor, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.
“There are further conversations we must have to reach consensus between the wings of our caucus, left and right. But we all have a responsibility to govern and obligations to the American people, so our work continues,” he said.
After a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Yarmuth signaled to reporters it was unclear whether enough Democrats would support the caps bill. Fractures were on display last week when three Democrats on the House Budget Committee voted against the measure.
“Instead of spending money on more wars, when we already spend more than the next ten countries combined, we ought to be investing artificial intelligence, in science, in technology, in infrastructure, in education that will make us lead the 20th Century,” one of those three, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said before the committee vote.
Republicans have been chiding Democrats for days for working on a statement about spending levels neither Republicans nor progressive Democrats will accept. They have accused Democratic leaders of abdicating their jobs and urged them to reconcile these splits to propose a real budget.
Lead Democrats considered that too tall of an order for now, but Yarmuth said at a hearing Monday that they may do so eventually.
“There is nothing that prevents us from producing a budget subsequent to this process,” Yarmuth said. “We felt it was imperative to get the top-line numbers done, raise the caps, so the appropriators could work in a reasonable way.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.