Tuesday's move ramps up a battle with Trump and puts the Democratic House on a collision course with the GOP-held Senate as the two chambers consider separate paths forward on the 12 annual spending bills. Work on the legislation is sure to consume lawmakers for months.
Trump's budget promised a 5% defense budget increase to $750 billion next year, while cutting day-to-day operating budgets for domestic agencies by $62 billion, or 10%. Trump's proposal is a nonstarter with Democrats and Republicans alike, but there's been no progress on forging a bipartisan agreement that would be required to stave off the return of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
The Democratic proposal is by Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky and powerful Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York. The plan would boost funding for nondefense agencies to $639 billion, up from $605 billion now, with $7.5 billion on top of that to cover costs for the U.S. Census.
Defense would get a boost from $716 billion now to $733 billion under the Democratic plan, cutting Trump's planned Pentagon increase of $34 billion in half. Yarmuth failed in his efforts to develop a more traditional — but nonbinding — congressional budget plan that would put lawmakers on the record on tax increases, Medicare and agency spending. Divisions among Democrats proved too difficult to overcome, and even the stripped-down plan released Tuesday exposed rifts between party liberals and more pragmatic lawmakers.
The bill is scheduled for a committee vote Wednesday, but liberal Democrat Ro Khanna of California announced Tuesday evening on Twitter that he would oppose the measure, saying it would fund "endless wars" while not adding enough to domestic programs.
At issue is the roughly one-third of the federal budget called discretionary spending that Congress passes each year, which is comprised of Cabinet agency budgets. Larger "mandatory" programs like Medicare and Social Security mostly run on autopilot.
Yarmuth said the plan is "a responsible framework for the country that ensures we make the needed investments for American families, our economy and our security." Without a deal signed into law by Trump, crunching budget limits — called spending "caps" in Washington-speak — would kick in, whacking the defense budget down to $576 billion and nondefense agencies down to $543 billion. Lawmakers set the painful limits back in 2011 as a deficit-cutting backstop in case a budget "supercommittee" failed to come up with an alternative.
The supercommittee collapsed in failure and lawmakers have been dealing with the hangover ever since, passing three different two-year deals to set more realistic caps. The most recent catchall spending bill, passed in February to end a 35-day partial government shutdown, marked the end of the most recent agreement.
Republicans immediately blasted Tuesday's measure, which, unlike prior spending agreements, doesn't included offsetting spending cuts elsewhere in the budget to limit its impact on the deficit. "House Democrats are not focused on doing a budget, nor are they focused on addressing our nation's mountainous debt," said Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, the top Republican on the Budget Committee. "This bill doesn't include offsets or bipartisan input — key components of past caps deals."
Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would like to forge another bipartisan agreement to establish higher, more realistic spending levels. "We have had some conversation about what we would do about the caps and where we go from here," Pelosi said Tuesday at a Washington event hosted by Politico.
But no real progress has been made, lawmakers and aides say, in great part because the White House is hostile to the idea. Once Democrats translate their proposal into spending legislation, it's sure to attract a string of veto threats from the White House.
Instead, speculation has mounted that any measure to ease the automatic cuts may be tacked on this summer to must-pass legislation to maintain the government's ability to issue bonds to cover its expenses.