McConnell: GOP Will Barter Over Automatic Spending Cuts

The Senate majority leader suggested the two parties would negotiate over lifting budget caps, rather than passing a long-term continuing resolution.

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As Congress prepares to pass a short-term continuing resolution, putting off a government shutdown for a few months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Republicans Wednesday that they’ll have to negotiate with Democrats to roll back looming spending cuts later this year.

"We are inevitably going to end up in negotiations that will crack the Budget Control Act once again,” McConnell said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Now let me just say this about the Budget Control Act. Before we started revisiting it, it actually did a pretty good job. We reduced government spending for two years in a row for the first time since the Korean War. ... But there's a lot of pressure in Congress to spend more; the administration certainly wants to spend more.”

Passing a clean continuing resolution in the next few weeks, which McConnell again emphasized should not include measures favored by conservatives to end funding for Planned Parenthood, “will give time for us to engage with the administration in determining how much we're going to spend and where we're going to spend it” later this year, he said.

Though he called it "unfortunate," McConnell said his warning was born of practicality. Democrats blocked several spending measures earlier this year, telling Republicans that they would not pass any new funding bills unless the majority agreed to turn back sequestration cuts on nondefense programs. And, McConnell said, President Obama is “in a key position” to veto any new spending bills that allow sequestration cuts to go through as planned.

Many conservatives in both chambers would rather see another continuing resolution passed later this year or early next year than to raise the spending caps for nondefense programs. But McConnell, a Senate traditionalist, has long pushed for Congress to go through the regular appropriations process and pass new spending bills. That, he said, will require compromise. But not just with Democrats.

“We’ll be forced into a discussion about how much we’re going to spend,” McConnell said. “We know our Democratic friends’ goal is to spend more money on everything. As all of you know, I’ve got members who want to spend more on defense—I put myself in that group as well—and we’ll enter into a classic negotiation. We can work out our differences and fund the government.”

McConnell’s announcement is a coup for Democrats who have been blocking spending bills for months to force the leader to sit down at the table with them and hash out a sequestration-relief plan for both defense and nondefense spending.

With sequestration caps threatening defense spending as well, some Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have already begun talks with Democratic members to find a compromise. But it is much less clear how the House will react to funding bills that raise spending caps for nondefense programs and whether there are enough votes in that chamber to pass such legislation.