Republicans mull inviting Democrats into U.S. budget negotiations

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 21, 2017 1:24 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Congress, unable so far to resolve deep disagreements over spending for the fiscal year starting on Oct. 1, are mulling whether to seek a bipartisan budget deal with Democrats similar to one reached nearly four years ago.

With only 20 working days to go before a lengthy August recess, some Republican lawmakers say a bipartisan agreement could help clear a legislative schedule crammed with other top priorities including tax reform, infrastructure and an increase to the federal debt limit.

In December 2013, Republican Representative Paul Ryan, now speaker of the House of Representatives, and Democratic Senator Patty Murray worked out a two-year deal that canceled some spending cuts in fiscal 2014 and 2015 in return for some longer-term spending reductions. The Ryan-Murray agreement was promptly enacted into law.

Some Republicans also view bipartisanship as a way to avoid a restrictive spending plan that would cap funding for U.S. agencies and a government shutdown that President Donald Trump threatened in May.

"I think what we need is another Ryan-Murray sort of proposal," said Republican Representative Mike Simpson, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee that is in charge of writing annual bills to fund federal programs.

Speaking to reporters after a closed meeting of House Republicans, Simpson said the idea was in the early stages of consideration.

Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, have lashed out at some of the deep spending cuts that Trump has proposed. But they are divided over how much top-line spending should be appropriated next year, including for a military build-up that Trump wants.

A bipartisan negotiation was just one of several options House Republicans are mulling.

Another would rush one massive spending bill for fiscal 2018 through the House in July, instead of the one-dozen separate appropriations bills that Congress tries to write every year.

Doing so would allow Republicans to tout an accomplishment to their constituents in August during a year that has so far seen few legislative achievements.

Given the limited time to write such a bill, Ryan might have to resort to just passing a "national security" spending bill that would fund the military and other security activities. Some Republicans want to boost military spending to $640 billion.

Besides dealing with next year's spending bills, Congress must also pass a budget blueprint that could facilitate passage of a major tax reform measure being written behind closed doors.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Bernadette Baum)