The Congressional Money Wars Are Heating Up

NYT FDJennifer Steinhauer June 18, 2015

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Good Thursday morning from Washington, where trade is back on the agenda and President Obama heads to the West Coast. The campaign trail remains active, but Jeb Bush canceled the last appearance of his announcement week blitz because of the mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church. In Congress, attention is returning to budget talks.

Even as they threaten to filibuster the usually sacrosanct Pentagon spending bill later on Thursday, Democrats are calling on Republicans to reopen budget talks and lift 2011 spending limits now squeezing an array of government programs.

In a letter being sent Thursday morning to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, the four top Senate Democrats —Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington — formally requested another set of bipartisan budget negotiations similar to an earlier round that helped hold off the spending restrictions known as sequestration.

“We write to urge you to immediately schedule bipartisan budget negotiations for next week to find a fair, reasonable and responsible path forward for funding key national priorities such as national defense and domestic investments in education, health, science and infrastructure,” the Democrats wrote.

Saying the spending caps loom as a potential “blow to our economic recovery,” the Democrats told Mr. McConnell that they stand “ready and willing to work with you to produce a fair and balanced Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.”

While Democrats and many Republicans have criticized the spending limits, Republicans appeased critics in their own party by shifting $38 billion in war funds not subject to the limits into the Pentagon’s operating budget. Congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama denounced the move as a gimmick and are demanding higher domestic spending as well. Democrats have threatened to filibuster all spending bills, including the defense measure that would pay for the broader military policy bill expected to pass the Senate on Thursday.

The tactic has enraged Mr. McConnell, who recently groused that Democrats have “packed the car for their filibuster vacation, and they’re ready to hit the road.” But Democrats hope he will eventually have little choice but to relent if they can hang together on their strategy.