Republicans threaten to block support on appropriations bills

In an effort to force Democrats to negotiate on the 12 fiscal 2011 appropriations bills, Senate Republicans 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 Thursday, Senate Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, 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," Hutchison added.

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

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

State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., 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," Gregg added.

Democrats were skeptical that Republicans could offer any wisdom on spending.

"This is all about politics; it's not about being fiscally responsible," said House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. James Moran, D-Va. "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 CR will give Congress time to finish the remaining spending bills, likely in a single omnibus package.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he believes the CR is likely to last between four and six weeks.

While the terms of the CR 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 CR, 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 Inouye's proposed compromise, which was approved on a party-line vote.

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