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Tom Cole

The 2025 spending wars hit the floor

The House will vote today on the FY2025 MilCon-VA spending bill, the first of next year’s measures to reach the floor under new Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Yet only a handful of House Democrats are likely to vote for the nearly $379 billion package, traditionally among the most bipartisan of the 12 annual spending bills.

In fact, Democratic leaders are urging all their members to vote no in order to lay down a marker for Cole, Speaker Mike Johnson and other senior Republicans. The message: if they want to avoid a repeat of last year’s appropriations debacle, they should cut a deal with Democrats now and skip the theatrics.

“It really is going down the same road. I don’t know what the reasoning is behind this,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “It’s going to be the same catastrophe as it was last year.”

Cole, Johnson and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise insist they’re open to a deal. Just not right now.

Cole’s plan is to use Fiscal Responsibility Act FY2025 funding levels minus multi-billion dollar “side deals” negotiated between President Joe Biden and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Cole says he and Johnson weren’t part of those side deals, so they don’t have to honor them.

The Oklahoma Republican’s position would lead to big cuts in domestic spending while the Pentagon’s budget would increase by $9 billion. Funding for the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs would also be boosted. Bills such as Labor-HHS, State-Foreign Ops and Financial Services-General Government would see double-digit cuts.

And in a bow to GOP hardliners, Cole and Republican appropriators have included numerous “poison pills” in these bills. These are conservative policy riders covering abortion, DEI, immigration, climate change, transgender and LGBTQ funding. The upcoming spending bill for the Justice Department is expected to include language targeting Special Counsel Jack Smith’s criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump, among other anti-”lawfare” riders.

All these provisions are bitterly opposed by House Democrats, and they won’t get anywhere with the Democratic-run Senate or the White House.

The affable Cole portrays all this as a negotiation and “our opening bid” in the FY2025 spending fight.

“It’s an opening position, a negotiation. These things always are,” Cole said. “These things are never ‘Take it or leave it.’ They change.”

No talks yet. Cole and House GOP leaders aren’t negotiating with anyone yet, not even on topline spending. Cole is pushing to have all 12 bills through his panel by mid-July. Scalise wants them all passed on the floor before Congress leaves for the August recess.

There are vulnerable House Republicans who could balk at such domestic-spending cuts knowing they’ll never become law. The House only passed seven such bills last year before the appropriations process bogged down in a partisan stalemate.

Lawmakers will need to pass a continuing resolution before the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a government shutdown. Then they’ll come back and finish up everything post-election.

House Democrats, the Senate and the White House all feel the issue of FY2025 spending levels was settled when the Fiscal Responsibility Act was enacted last year.

“Tom Cole, I have a lot of respect for,” DeLauro said. “I’ve been very clear. We’re not doing less than 1%.” DeLauro means there needs to be a minimum 1% increase for both defense and nondefense spending. As of now, the two sides are tens of billions of dollars apart.

Even House GOP appropriators — while supporting Cole’s plan — admit it probably won’t work. They also acknowledge that GOP hardliners will be upset when Johnson and the GOP leadership can’t deliver the spending cuts they’re promising now.

“All we can do is what we can do in the House, and what we think is right,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), cardinal for the Interior subcommittee. “In the end, you’re going to have to negotiate with the Democratic Senate and a Democratic administration. And spending levels will probably go up in some areas.”

We asked Simpson if this would lead to a backlash by conservatives. “I suspect you’re right,” the veteran lawmaker said.

Let’s circle back to Johnson and Scalise. How will Johnson — who was only able to beat back a motion to vacate from GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) with Democratic support — survive conservative criticism when he ends up cutting deals with Democrats and Biden on these bills, likely in the lame-duck session?

Here’s what Johnson told us when we asked him why he should expect a different result this time around: “Because we’re doing the slow, deliberate process of building consensus around these ideas, and I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to get it done.”

Johnson said it with a smile, almost seeming to know how unrealistic it sounds.

Scalise described the situation this way: “​​We can only control the House. The Senate has notoriously failed to act in a timely manner, but it’s up to us to do our job in the House, and then go shame them into doing theirs.”

— John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.