Republicans threaten to block support on appropriations bills

Senate Republicans pledge to withhold support from any measure unless discretionary spending is pared to a total of $1.108 trillion.

In an effort to force Democrats to negotiate on the 12 fiscal 2011 appropriations bills, Senate Republicans on Thursday pledged to withhold support from any measure unless discretionary spending is pared to a total of $1.108 trillion.

Fiscal 2011 discretionary spending levels are capped at $1.114 trillion in the Senate and $1.121 trillion in the House. But a compromise will likely be needed to finish appropriations this year, and will probably result in reduced discretionary spending levels.

Democrats will need at least one Republican to win the 60 votes required to overcome any filibuster or points of order that are likely to be lodged against an expected massive omnibus spending package appropriators are working on to wrap up the fiscal 2011 appropriations process.

At a news conference on Thursday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the ranking member on the Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee, said the proposal would save $296 billion over 10 years. "We have voted against every appropriations bill [in the Appropriations Committee] because it doesn't do anything to bring down the deficit or the debt," she added.

Senate GOP appropriators displayed their unity on Thursday as they voted against the typically bipartisan-supported fiscal 2011 Defense bill. The measure passed on a party line 18-12 vote.

Republicans also have sought to make spending and the deficit an election issue and have ramped up their rhetoric as Election Day nears.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the ranking member on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, called the GOP effort a reasonable initiative. We shouldn't be spending all that we are spending, and this is an attempt to address that," he added.

Democrats were skeptical Republicans could offer any wisdom on spending. "This is all about politics; it's not about being fiscally responsible," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va., and chairman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. "We have an economy that needs help, and more and more people need more help than they are getting."

To date, none of the 12 spending bills have passed the Senate, and only two have passed the House. Before the end of the month, lawmakers are expected to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the federal government running beyond Sept. 30. The resolution will give Congress time to finish the remaining spending bills, likely in a single omnibus package.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he believes the resolution is likely to last between four and six weeks. While the terms of the continuing resolution are still being negotiated, the House could consider the measure as soon as next week, according to a House leadership aide.

Hutchison said Republicans are concerned about the possibility Democrats may seek to include extraneous spending in the measure. "Senate Republicans are going to stand firm that any continuing resolution continue [funding] at the levels of last year's spending," she said.

Her comments came as the White House circulated a document that Republicans contend seeks an additional $20 billion in spending in the resolution, including $5.7 billion to prevent a shortfall in Pell Grants.

Republicans pledge to vote against the fiscal 2011 spending bills followed their attempt to offer their $1.108 trillion discretionary spending cap at the Senate Appropriations Committee's first full committee markup in July. At that meeting, Inouye initially sought $1.120 trillion in discretionary spending but revised his figure to $1.114 trillion to win GOP support. Republicans rejected his proposed compromise, which was approved on a party-line vote.