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Members Wait for Big Budget, Debt Details

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans on both sides of the Capitol emerged from separate conference meetings Monday night intrigued but noncommittal about the prospects of a big budget and debt-limit deal that would ease fiscal pressure going forward.  

House Republicans are set to huddle again Tuesday to delve into the details of the leadership-level agreement, which members said were not presented to them Monday evening. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said it “would be a stretch” to say the majority of Republicans feel great about this proposal. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said text could come Monday night. Womack said the plan was to hold a vote Wednesday.  

A source familiar with the proposal explained it is similar in structure to the previous budget agreement hammered out in 2013 by the likely next speaker, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., when the lawmakers chaired their respective Budget committees. Under that agreement, Congress swapped sequester relief for reductions in spending on the mandatory side.  

This potential deal would push the statutory spending caps upward by $80 billion over two years, providing some $50 billion in increased funding for fiscal 2016 and $30 billion for fiscal 2017, according to a person familiar with what’s being developed. As Democrats have long demanded, the increases would be equally divided between defense and non-defense accounts.  

Some of the concern Monday evening appeared to center on policy provisions not strictly tied to budgeting, known as riders. Among those swirling around was an effort to thwart the Obama administration’s ability to implement its Clean Power Plan through the Environmental Protection Agency.  

Attaching riders could be problematic for Democrats.  

House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call that Democrats’ support for the agreement would depend on the final details, warning against poison pills.  

“Everyone wants to inspect this closely,” Van Hollen said. “And look at it, get a better sense of everything … we’re working very hard to try to get an agreement that provides stability — the debt ceiling, the budget — we just have to look at the fine print.”  

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters there had been under discussion an effort to reduce the number of votes needed to cut off filibusters of appropriations bills in the Senate for the two fiscal years covered by the budget deal, but a senior Democratic aide made clear that was rejected.  

Rogers emerged from the House GOP’s gathering suggesting members didn’t feel great right now and leaders were discussing policy riders to dump on.  

There were concerns about the process of developing the agreement and the way it could advance quickly in a matter of days, before the departure of Boehner. Despite the concerns, there appeared to be a pathway to passage using a combination of Democratic votes and national security hawks in both chambers.  

Coming out of the Senate Republicans meeting Monday night, Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz, said he could support the budget deal being discussed even thought it is a few billion dollars short on defense spending vs. what was authorized.  

“I think that we could move forward with this,” McCain said. “It averts a shutdown. It puts these problems until two years from now. So, I think it’s the best deal we can get.”  

McCain noted the agreement being formulated would rely on increased use of war funding to plus up defense accounts. That “is interesting, because it was anathema to this president and to the Secretary of Defense, now, all of a sudden, it’s acceptable,” he said. “I guess you’re going to have to ask them how they found themselves on the road to Damascus.”  

The White House has been in discussions with the offices of the top four congressional leaders about getting to an agreement to resolve the budgetary issues, while also averting a default on the debt.  

Matthew Fleming, Tamar Hallerman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

Big Budget Deal Could Clean Out Boehner’s Barn

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