Senate Republicans on Thursday were nearly united in blocking a $54 billion appropriations bill the party deemed too expensive. A day earlier, the House GOP failed to approve its own version of that bill, not because the price was too high but because moderates balked at the steep spending cuts conservatives included.
The twin events highlight a simmering problem for Republicans trying to reduce federal spending and cut the budget deficit. Conservatives are suddenly facing resistance from moderates who fear the cuts are starting to hurt back in their districts.
“We are reaching a point in time when we are beginning to recognize the limits in our ability to cut non-defense, discretionary spending,” said Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa.
About 40 or so of Dent’s fellow moderates who feared the the funding cuts were too deep joined with a small faction of conservatives who wanted even deeper cuts and the Republicans no longer had enough votes to pass the measure so leaders withdrew it rather than let it go down in defeat.
GOP leaders claimed there just wasn’t enough time to consider the bill and all of its amendments before lawmakers leave town Friday for a month-long recess. But the real reason was that, with the revolt by moderates, they no longer had the votes to pass their own bill.
The bill would have added money for the Pentagon, but cut $7.7 billion for current funding levels for transportation, housing and urban development to meet the GOP’s own budget blueprint. The reductions would have come mainly from social welfare programs and the infrastructure projects.
“Discretionary spending is taking 85 percent of the cuts and it represents one-third of federal spending,” Dent said. “We are recognizing how difficult that is.”
Democrats gleefully claimed the twin failures demonstrated that the Republican Party is in disarray, driven to chaos by the party’s far-right, Tea Party faction.
“The Republican Party, on fiscal issues, is falling apart before our very eyes,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. said. “They can’t pass fundamental bills because a hard-right group has huge political power but is so far off the deep end that Republicans can’t go along. It’s an amazing moment.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was just as blunt. “The Republican appropriations process has imploded,” he said.
Republicans have until Congress returns on Sept. 9 to bridge their divide or they’ll be left in a much weaker position to negotiate with Democrats over a series of fiscal issues. They’ll only have a few days to produce a 2014 budget before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was already suggesting Thursday that lawmakers may have to pass a temporary funding measure just to avoid a government shutdown until a budget can be negotiated.
With the party so divided, House Republicans have all but given up on hopes of passing any additional appropriations bills, further reducing their leverage to negotiate a final omnibus spending bill that meets their own budget targets.
“Unless something changes,” Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., an appropriator said, “Regular order for appropriations is finished for the year.”