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Appropriators face close votes on spending bills in committee

House Appropriations markups planned for Tuesday and Wednesday are on hold pending ongoing debt limit negotiations

Rep. Steve Womack, chair of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said Tuesday that Republicans are still working on the votes needed to advance bills through committee.
Rep. Steve Womack, chair of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said Tuesday that Republicans are still working on the votes needed to advance bills through committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While House appropriators say the ongoing debt limit negotiations are the main cause for delaying the first planned full committee markups, a senior Republican said Tuesday that lining up support from GOP panel members for the bills remains “a work in progress.”

Financial Services Appropriations Chairman Steve Womack, R-Ark., said Tuesday that while the debt negotiations are the principal reason for the delay, the party was still working on the votes needed to advance the bills through committee.

“I don’t think we can afford to go into markups without having just absolute confidence that we are going to be able to carry the mail, because we aren’t going to get any help,” Womack said.

The House Appropriations Committee had planned to hold its first full committee markups Tuesday and Wednesday for four appropriations bills — Agriculture, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch and Military Construction-VA — all of which subcommittees approved last week.

But Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, announced late Monday night that the markups are on hold pending the ongoing debt limit negotiations between Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and President Joe Biden.

“Given the recent developments in the negotiations between Speaker McCarthy and the president, in order to give the Speaker maximum flexibility as talks continue, the committee will postpone this week’s markups,” Granger said in a statement.

Spending limits are a key piece of those negotiations, and McCarthy and Biden are expected to set topline spending figures for at least the next two years if they can reach a deal. McCarthy is pushing for fiscal 2024 spending at the level enacted for fiscal 2022, which is a more than $130 billion cut from the current appropriations.

[Wide gulf between debt limit negotiators as time grows short]

Womack said McCarthy needs flexibility in the debt limit negotiations, and appropriators don’t want to get ahead of him by moving forward with markups. However, he said it is fair to say that GOP divisions played a role in the delay.

“It is not surprising, given the divisions in our own party, that even coming up with a bill that can be satisfactory to all members is still a work in progress,” Womack said.

The committee has only three GOP votes to spare in its markups if all Democrats are opposed, and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is out this week, Womack said.

Democrats said Tuesday that the delay was caused by committee Republicans realizing their bills were “unworkable,” as House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro put it in a press release.

DeLauro, D-Conn., said the first four were the “‘easy ones,’ cherry-picked so House Republicans did not have to reveal to the American people their plan to pull teachers out of kids’ classrooms and law enforcement off local streets or make our airports and communities less safe.”

‘Lot of amendments’

But there’s also a push from some of the more conservative Republicans to pull the spending bills even further to the right.

The Appropriations Committee added two new members of the House Freedom Caucus this Congress, GOP Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia and Michael Cloud of Texas, bringing that group’s membership on the committee to four. Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., and Ben Cline, R-Va., are the other two.

Clyde said Tuesday he had “a lot of amendments” to the appropriations bills, but he declined to divulge what those amendments consisted of before text is released. With Democrats slamming GOP budget cut plans for hitting law enforcement, Clyde has taken aim at the FBI’s budget, for example.

“I think the FBI has shown in the last few weeks that they are not holding strict fidelity to the law,” Clyde said. “They are going to have to pay a heavy price for that. Because I think our country demands they hold strict fidelity to the law.”

The FBI is funded in the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which hasn’t been unveiled or scheduled for a markup yet.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., insisted Tuesday the delay is due to the debt limit, and said appropriators don’t need to be the center of attention right now.

“We didn’t want to distract from the debt ceiling negotiation. That negotiation could easily impact what our numbers are going to be in allocations, so better just to wait and let the dust settle,” Cole said. “We all assume that’s going to be not very far down the line; most of the basic work is done.”

Cole, who is chairman of the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, has one of the more challenging tasks this year among the dozen subcommittee “cardinals.”

Even if spending were ultimately frozen at fiscal 2023 levels, agencies under Cole’s jurisdiction start out with a roughly $16 billion budget hole, according to Jeff Davis of the Eno Center for Transportation.

The shortfall is largely due to depressed mortgage insurance receipts given the housing market downturn as well as rising costs for low-income housing vouchers due to rental inflation. The shortfall means it would cost $16 billion extra next year just to provide the same level of current services.

Nonetheless, Cole was confident Republicans would have the votes to move the bills through committee.

“We’ll work out our issues,” he said. “I’m certainly not worried about passing our bills.”

Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., said he thinks his bill — which is expected to include severe cuts, as it is the largest of the nondefense spending bills — will receive support from all of the panel’s Republicans.

“I think we’re going to have a good bill. I think we’re going to be doing a lot of cutting in areas members are concerned about,” he said.

Aderholt predicted that his bill would hold on to moderate Republicans who know it is going to conference with the Senate and not becoming law on its own.

“There were a lot of moderates that voted for the debt limit bill, who know that the alternative would be a lot worse,” he said. “Obviously, if we do go to conference, there could be an endgame that would be different.”

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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