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Democrats Seek Repeat of Budget Success in Spending Debate

Pelosi and Reid talk to reporters. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Pelosi and Reid talk to reporters. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When it came to cutting a budget deal to increase spending levels, the Democratic strategy worked — and all signs point to an attempt at a repeat performance in December.  

The Democratic strategy, which came to be described as “filibuster summer” after a Washington Post report  of an interview with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., led to the negotiations on the accord the White House expects will be signed into law soon.  

“We’ve been trying for months to get the Republicans to understand that we were not going to have a budget where the Pentagon got everything they needed, and the rest of America didn’t, and we kept telling them we’re not going to agree to something that’s unfair,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told CQ Roll Call, speaking of a pledge to blockade a GOP-favored defense spending measure.  

“They didn’t think we would be united and be able to vote it down. It’s so hard for people to vote against the defense appropriation bill, but we did,” the Nevada Democrat said. “We did it more than once.”  

Democrats opted to make the stand on the defense spending side against increased use of a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which was not subject to sequester caps, as a way to communicate their opposition to appropriations bills that did not have matching increases on the domestic side.  

When they traveled home on weekends and recess, Democrats put a face on the cuts to explain to their constituencies. Food safety, railroad safety, health research — all examples were on the table.  

Reid praised President Barack Obama for not negotiating specifically on the need to increase borrowing authority to avert default, though Republican supporters of the agreement have argued that entitlement changes and other offsets amount to concessions there.  

“He knew that he had Pelosi and I supporting him, and they could bring up votes all they wanted. If they wanted to bring it up with … a deficit program with a lot of bells and whistles or ideological things on it, such as Planned Parenthood or EPA dissolution, all that kind of stuff, we wouldn’t agree,” Reid said.  

“The didn’t have the votes to pass a clean debt ceiling,” Reid said. “So, what they were told is fine, that if you can’t do that then you better do a budget because we’re not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling.”  

Critics such as Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argued the marker laid down by Republican leadership that there would be no default limited their leverage in negotiations with the White House.  

“Because leadership plays this game, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Where’s the good?” Cruz said in a statement Friday. “Leadership’s position is that with Republican majorities in both houses, we should spend more, roughly $80 billion, than we did with the Democratic majority, $63 billion.”  

But looking ahead, with top-line budget numbers set, the next big negotiation will revolve around policy riders. As Reid said in the interview, Democrats are united about blocking “ideological, short-sighted, crazy ideas” that Republicans will try to attach to the omnibus spending bill.  

Newly elected Speaker Paul D. Ryan said in an interview with CBS News that he anticipated the budget agreement would give Republicans power in setting priorities for spending.  

“I think this allows us to get back to what we’d call here, you know, regular order,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “It means we can get back to doing an appropriations process, going on offense on ideas.”  

Obama and Senate Appropriations ranking Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland each echoed that sentiment after the budget deal passed Friday.  

“Congress should build on this by getting to work on spending bills that invest in America’s priorities without getting side tracked by ideological provisions that have no place in America’s budget process,” Obama said. “If we can do that, we’ll help our workers and businesses keep growing the economy and building an America full of opportunity for all.”  

Mikulski said Democratic appropriators are, “prepared to fight against any poison pill riders that could threaten a government shutdown.  

The deadline for action on an omnibus spending bill to keep the government open is Dec. 11 — just a little more than a month away.  

Matthew Fleming contributed to this report.

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