The spending cuts that Republican leader Kevin McCarthy promised hard-line conservatives in order to clinch the House speakership are a non-starter in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Senate Democrats and Republicans say that while there is likely to be negotiation over federal spending and the deficit, the position staked out by the House GOP is untenable.
An aide to the Senate GOP leadership told The Washington Times that any effort to cut defense spending by the House would be met with hostility.
“We’re Republicans, we don’t want to cut defense spending at a time when Russia is waging war in Ukraine and China looks ready to gobble up Taiwan,” said the aide.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are opposed to cutting domestic spending or having the debt limit, the amount the federal government can borrow to meet expenditures, used as leverage to advance House Republicans’ agenda.
“There’s no negotiating over whether or not the United States pays its bills on time,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, told The Washington Post.
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To secure the votes needed to become speaker, Mr. McCarthy gave hard-line conservative Republicans a series of concessions on policy and legislation. Topping the list was an agreement to push legislation balancing the federal budget over the next decade.
To reach the goal, Mr. McCarthy has agreed to link a vote on hiking the debt ceiling to the spending cuts needed to balance the budget. The leverage is viewed as pivotal in pressuring the Senate and President Biden to accept the cuts.
“We believe there ought to be specific, concrete limits on spending, attached to a debt ceiling increase,” said Rep. Chip Roy, Texas Republican.
To balance the budget, House Republicans want to cap federal spending at levels authorized by Mr. Biden’s 2022 fiscal budget.
Those spending levels are at least $130 billion lower than what Congress opted to appropriate in December when passing a $1.7 trillion measure to fund the government until the end of September. Defense spending alone has grown by nearly 10% — from $782 billion to $858 billion — between the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.
Under the deal that Mr. McCarthy struck with the House Freedom Caucus, that 10% increase would be slashed if the budget cap was applied equally throughout federal spending programs. Mr. Roy, who was involved in the negotiations with Mr. McCarthy, said there was a broad agreement that the budget cuts would target domestic spending.
“This means cutting funding for the woke and weaponized bureaucrats that received massive increases under the $1.7 trillion omnibus,” Mr. Roy said. He said the $130 billion difference between the 2023 and 2022 spending levels could easily be made up by slashing funding for domestic programs.
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Such comments have failed to assure skittish Republicans largely because the full extent of Mr. McCarthy‘s deal with hard-liners remains unclear. Even Mr. Roy’s colleagues in the Freedom Caucus seem to think that defense spending is on the table.
“Everything will be looked at,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, South Carolina Republican. “You can’t have a balanced budget unless you start cutting.”
The confusion and uncertainty have roiled House Republicans. Several moderate GOP lawmakers have already come out in opposition to cutting defense spending.
“We need to balance our budget, absolutely,” said Rep. Michael Waltz, Florida Republican. “But we’re not going to do it on the backs of our troops.”
Mr. McCarthy’s lieutenants have clarified that the balanced budget pledge is more of an “aspirational” goal than a blueprint. Rep. French Hill, Arkansas Republican, said there was not a “specific number cap” other than keeping domestic spending flat at the 2022 levels.
Another ally of Mr. McCarthy argued that spending bills will “go through an open process” of debate and negotiation with pressing needs taken into account.
“So who knows what it’s going to look like at the end of the day, it might be higher, might be lower,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.
Some House Republicans say, however, it won’t matter what spending bills the House passes because Democrats still control the Senate.
“I don’t think they care who is in the majority over here,” said Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska Republican. “It’s a separate chamber with members that have their own priorities and prerogatives.”