The senior Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee is warning that government shutdowns are all but inevitable if the newly empowered Republicans insist on dropping federal funding back to 2022 levels, as some conservatives have demanded.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) emphasized that any spending bills will need the support of Democrats in both Congress and the White House, and vowed that they’d never back proposals that revert funding to last year’s levels.
“You cannot pass appropriations bills without them being both bipartisan and bicameral. The president will not sign,” she said during a press briefing in the Capitol on Tuesday. “So I think this notion that you can deal with 2022 levels — that appears to have been a part of this secret deal — you then may be looking at guaranteeing a shutdown.”
The “secret deal” was a reference to the concessions made by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to his conservative detractors in order to win their support for his speakership bid — a process that handed him the gavel in the early hours of Saturday morning on the 15th ballot.
Some of those concessions were included in the new House rules package, adopted by Republicans on Monday night, while others were more informal promises, the details of which have not been released publicly.
Among those non-public stipulations is a vow by McCarthy to cut domestic discretionary spending — the portion of the budget that Congress dictates each year — back to the levels of fiscal year 2022.
While Republicans have not said where exactly those cuts would fall, some lawmakers are concerned that Pentagon funding would be affected — a concern that prompted Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) to oppose his party’s rules package on Monday.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Tuesday, however, that he opposes any defense cuts.
“We haven’t talked about reducing defense spending,” he told reporters in the Capitol.
Yet Democrats are already warning that, if the Pentagon is spared, that would only translate into steeper cuts for non-defense programs, including those providing healthcare and other services to military veterans.
“We will work together, we will cooperate, but we are not backing off the critical investments that have been made — that will continue to be made — because someone traded away the well-being of the American public, and our national security, for personal gain,” DeLauro said, referring to McCarthy’s concessions. “No way to run a government.”
The early partisan clash over federal spending levels forecasts a fierce fight over spending — and raises the threat of a government shutdown — when Congress is forced to consider the issue at the conclusion of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
The House concerns echo those coming from Senate Democrats, who will have to negotiate bipartisan deals with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in order to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government later in the year. Even if McConnell signs onto those proposals, Democrats worry that House Republicans might not bring them to the floor, if conservatives threaten to retaliate against McCarthy as a result.
Republicans have defended their efforts to slash funding, warning that the nation’s debt — which is currently $31.5 trillion — is an existential threat to the nation’s solvency and economic health.
“Debt is not something that’s just innocuous,” Scalise said. “It’s going to ultimately have to be paid by somebody, and that’s future generations.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chair of the Democratic Caucus, has joined DeLauro in warning that the early spending fight has heightened the threat of shutdowns throughout the new Congress. McCarthy’s concessions to conservatives, he said, are “laying the groundwork towards dysfunction, default, and potential government shutdowns that none of us want.”
Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), senior Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare and Social Security, offered a different view.
Neal noted that virtually every government shutdown over the last 30 years — beginning with the budget standoffs between former President Clinton and then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) — resulted in Republicans taking the brunt of political backlash from the public. With that in mind, Neal predicted that GOP leaders will do everything in their power to prevent history from repeating this Congress.
“If there’s one thing that the people who have been on that side for a long time remember, they have lost every showdown over shutting down the government,” he said. “Believe me, they are not going to shut down the government for sure.”