Politics

House Dems scrap budget vote as centrists and liberals fight over spending plan

Key Points
  • House Democrats will not vote on a measure to set budget caps this week.
  • Both centrist and liberal party members rebel against a measure that would have set Democratic priorities for spending negotiations.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., leaves the House Democrats' caucus meeting in the Capitol.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

House Democrats will not move forward with a planned budget vote as two flanks of the party rebel.

The chamber will not vote this week on a measure to raise spending limits for the next two years, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said Tuesday. The bill, which leaders wanted to vote on Wednesday, would have allowed lawmakers to hike defense and domestic spending by $88 billion each in fiscal 2020.

But the measure fizzled out for now as party leaders faced defections from both the center and left. The Congressional Progressive Caucus wanted $33 billion more in nondefense spending in 2020. Meanwhile, the centrist Blue Dog Coalition called the spending levels too expensive and backed a balanced budget amendment.

The caps were largely a statement of priorities in budget talks with the White House and Senate Republicans. By failing to pass legislation, Democrats lose one opportunity to illustrate their priorities during their first period of House control since 2011.

In a statement, Yarmuth said his party would focus on stopping automatic cuts, known as sequestration, and spending reductions proposed by the Trump administration earlier this year.

"There are further conversations we must have to reach consensus between the wings of our caucus, left and right," Yarmuth said. "But we all have a responsibility to govern and obligations to the American people, so our work continues."

The House did set an overall spending limit of $1.3 trillion for fiscal 2020 as part of its rules process. Lawmakers can write appropriations bills at those levels.

The spending caps bill's collapse highlights the difficulties House Democrats face in governing with a diverse majority. The 27 Blue Dog Democrats, who supported the balanced budget amendment introduced by Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, will have to run for re-election next year in many ideologically split or red-leaning districts. Meanwhile, liberals in the roughly 90-member Congressional Progressive Caucus want to follow through on promises to seek sweeping policy change in Congress.

In a statement, House Budget Committee ranking member Steve Womack, R-Ark., called the caps deal's failure "another embarrassing failure to govern."

The policy splits have already emerged on some Democratic priorities. Thirteen Democrats backed a bill last week to set a federal minimum wage based on regional cost of living and purchasing power, in contrast to the $15 per hour blanket minimum wage bill pushed by House leaders and the party's left flank.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he spoke with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and they agreed to "get together at the staff level to begin discussing the possibility of reaching a two-year caps deal." The leaders want to "move ahead fully with some kind of regular appropriations process," he said.

If Congress cannot raise budget caps, spending will automatically drop by $126 billion next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Lawmakers also want to avoid another damaging government shutdown. A record 35-day partial closure in parts of December and January disrupted government services and sapped economic growth.

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