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GOP seeks unity on spending restraints under divided government

One of the main emerging strategies is to try to pass the 12 annual spending bills individually

Sen. Rand Paul said if the House can pass 12 separate spending bills, his goal is to get 41 Republicans — enough to mount a successful filibuster — to commit to voting on the individual bills and promising not to support an omnibus.
Sen. Rand Paul said if the House can pass 12 separate spending bills, his goal is to get 41 Republicans — enough to mount a successful filibuster — to commit to voting on the individual bills and promising not to support an omnibus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

GOP conservatives peeved that Democrats and some spending-friendly Republicans are preparing to pass a roughly $1.7 trillion omnibus package are looking at ways they can restore some fiscal and process discipline to the appropriations process in the next Congress.

Senate Republicans held a special conference meeting Wednesday, called by a group of conservatives, to discuss spending issues and other priority agenda items for the next two years, including leveraging a debt ceiling deadline to enact some fiscal controls.

House Republican leaders and incoming Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, hosted a news conference to lambaste the omnibus agreement announced Tuesday night that GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said would increase discretionary spending “somewhere about $100 billion.”

GOP leaders said they weren’t party to the omnibus negotiations, and details of the framework agreement remain under wraps. House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Republicans were “invited to the table many, many times to join the negotiations. They decided not to do that.”

Before the negotiations even started, House Republicans made clear they prefer a continuing resolution to extend funding to the first quarter of next year, when they’ll be in the majority and can negotiate spending cuts. For those reasons, they’re also opposing the one-week stopgap spending bill.

“Allow the American people what they said a month ago, to change Washington as they know it today,” McCarthy said. “We can’t afford to continue to spend the way the Democrats have. The future generation cannot afford it as well.”

McCarthy is trying to wrangle enough votes to be elected speaker in January, but says his opposition to the one-week CR and coming omnibus have nothing to do with that.

In a more obvious nexus to the speaker race, House Republicans held a conference meeting later Wednesday to discuss changes they want to implement to House rules. Conservatives in the House are pushing some rule changes that could impact the appropriations process, like trying to limit bills brought to the floor to a single subject or jurisdiction, as part of their demands for supporting McCarthy or any other speaker candidate.

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., one in a bloc of five McCarthy opponents, said he wants McCarthy to back the Republican Study Committee’s plan to balance the budget in seven years or offer an alternative.

No concrete decisions were made in either the Senate or House GOP meetings about how to handle the appropriations process moving forward but members offered ideas for consideration. Senate Republicans said they expect to have more conference discussions around spending.

Individual bills

One of the main GOP spending strategies that’s emerging is to try to pass the 12 annual appropriations bills individually. McCarthy and Granger both said their goal is to do so in the House.

“If the Senate does not do their work they can’t sit back and think they’re going to jam us into some omnibus,” McCarthy said.

Granger said that “you get more for your money” in passing individual bills because “people would understand it more.”

House Freedom Caucus members unsuccessfully pushed for a conference rule to ban consolidated appropriations bills on the House floor. Granger said Republicans aren’t looking at a House rule that would block consideration of omnibus legislation but they will discuss that before they start moving spending bills next year.

McCarthy said he would not support open rules on appropriations bills, another change Freedom Caucus members want so they can offer unlimited amendments, but would ensure bills are open to amendment during committee markups.

Committees generally don’t have specific rules limiting amendments but members sometimes negotiate ahead of time on what they will and will not offer.

Sen. Rand Paul said if the House can pass 12 separate appropriations bills, his goal is to get 41 Republicans — enough to mount a successful filibuster — to commit to voting on the individual spending measures and promising not to support an omnibus.

The Kentucky Republican admitted “that’s a tough challenge” and that the strategy will only work if the conference coalesces around it in January, rather than wait until close to the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

“We’re not taking some omnibus stuck down our throat . . . the day before the expiration,” Paul said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is set to become Senate Appropriations ranking member next Congress, said trying to advance the 12 appropriations bills as stand-alone measures would have been a top priority for her had Republicans won the majority.

Instead she’s had conversations with the incoming chair, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., about trying to move “minibuses” on the floor, although she cautioned floor time is ultimately up to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

“That’s where we would combine two or three appropriations bills, debate them, make them fully amendable under the rules. And to me, that would be a good way to operate,” Collins said.

Spending cuts?

Conservatives opposed to the omnibus, a much larger majority in the House Republican Conference than the Senate Republican Conference, largely admit they won’t be able to stop it from passing.

The focus of Wednesday’s Senate Republican meeting was to ensure they’re not put in a similar position in the future and to plan, in coordination with House Republicans, how they may be able to start curbing spending instead of adding to the deficit every year.

Paul said one thing that would help is using the “laws on the book that are supposed to keep us from going so massively in debt,” like the pay-as-you-go law that requires any bill that expands deficits to be offset.

“We’ve exempted ourselves from pay-go maybe 80 times in the last 12 years,” he said.

McCarthy, Granger and other House Republicans have said they want to cut discretionary spending, especially on the nondefense side, but they have declined to say by how much.

“I would sit down like anything else we do,” McCarthy said. “Like every single household we’d take how much money we’re able to afford and we’d proportion it out and let all the members have that debate in an open process.”

Republicans have been pointing out that Democrats during this Congress passed major pandemic relief, climate change and health care laws outside of the regular appropriations process through partisan reconciliation laws.

A GOP-controlled House will prevent that from happening again, Rep. Tom Cole, the ranking member of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said.

“I have no doubt that a Republican House will reprioritize spending, and frankly, spend less than Democrats would have,” Cole said. “You slow it down, but you still have to remember, you have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate.”

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., the ranking member on the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, pointed to divided government as a reason Republicans may not have the pull some members expect.

“Maybe we can stop some nonsense, and end up in negotiations that yield a better product, but that’s all conjecture right now,” he said. “I just don’t know how much different things are going to be between now and then, other than what comes out of the House’s versions of the appropriations bills.”

Other members, like Byron Donalds, R-Fla., believe Republicans will get better spending deals in the next Congress after taking back power.

“Are there going to be points that have to be negotiated? Of course,” he said. “Are there going to be things that House Republicans may not like? Of course. But it will be significantly better than this deal that is being cut right now.”

Some Senate Republicans are less sure. Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday’s conversation underscored how important it is to win elections, since the GOP has limited leverage to achieve their goals in the minority outside of government funding deadlines.

“Government shutdowns aren’t very good leverage,” the Florida Republican said. “The alternative to not funding government is either a continuing resolution, which systematically isn’t good for the country, or threatening to shut down the government, which generally does not favor the aggressor in most fights.”

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