Conservatives are blasting the five-month, fiscal 2017 spending deal written by Republicans and Democrats as nothing short of a “cave in” by the GOP despite its control of both the House, Senate and White House.
The deal, conservatives say, will make the fiscal 2018 spending process even more difficult.
The $1 trillion bill “does little more than kowtow to liberal Democrats and so-called moderate’ Republicans,” Jason Pye, policy director for the conservative FreedomWorks advocacy group, said Monday.
Republican leaders pointed to the GOP wins in the bill, including a $15 billion increase in defense spending that did not require the typical equal increase in domestic spending.
“We have boosted resources for our defense needs without corresponding increases in non-defense spending, as Democrats had insisted upon for years,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., touted.
The bill also includes an unprecedented $1.5 billion for border security, although none of it can be used for a wall or to increase deportations of those who have already crossed the border.
But despite those Republican gains, a GOP aide who has spoken to conservative GOP lawmakers said most view the bill “as a complete concession to Democrats and that it is more or less what we have seen in the past — that they are making the decision to pass it with Democrats rather than Republicans.”
Conservatives had hoped a GOP-controlled Congress and White House would finally result in spending reform and policy changes they were forced to abandon while President Obama was in the White House and Democrats controlled the Senate.
In past years, conservative lawmakers have voted against spending bills because they believe the cuts are not substantial enough or because the legislation does not include key conservative provisions.
The fiscal 2017 spending plan looks a lot like past spending legislation. It leaves out many top conservative priorities as well as President Trump’s requests.
As examples, it does not strip out taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, a women’s health and abortion provider. The legislation excludes language that would withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities, another conservative priority.
It does not include a penny for the southern border wall that was at the center of Trump’s campaign agenda, despite a request from Trump to include the funding. The legislation also leaves in place Obama-era financial reform language the GOP has long criticized as burdensome.
Pro-life groups were particularly frustrated, even though House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled earlier this year he would include language defunding Planned Parenthood into the GOP’s health care bill.
“The Republican Party is the only party with an anti-abortion platform and whose candidates ran specifically on the promise to defund Planned Parenthood, yet, here we are, watching them pass a bill that funds Planned Parenthood even though they control the House, Senate, and White House,” said Kristina Hernandez, president of Students for Life of America, which describes itself as the nation’s largest pro-life youth group.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said his group has not taken a formal position on the bill, but he is fielding angry feedback from constituents.
“What I’m hearing from a lot of my constituents is, we gave you the White House, we gave you the Senate, we gave you the House,” Meadows said. “Why does this spending package appear to be driven by more of a left-leaning agenda than a conservative-leaning agenda?”
Meadows acknowledged the spending negotiations are “obviously a give and take situation.” But for Republicans, there has been more giving in spending negotiations than taking since the 2013 partial government closure.
Over the years, the GOP has become increasingly fearful of spending showdowns and the prospects of a partial government closure. The last time the House and Senate failed to pass a spending bill in 2013, a partial government closure resulted in plummeting GOP poll numbers.
The view among voters was that that the Republicans were to blame for the mess by insisting the spending bill defund Obamacare. Republican poll numbers recovered but in subsequent years, voters signaled they would keep blaming the GOP in spending fights.
Public perception that the GOP is to blame has emboldened Democrats and provided the party real leverage in spending negotiations. The GOP can’t pass a spending bill in Congress on its own, as the Senate filibuster rule requires 60 votes, and the GOP controls only 52 votes.
This time around, Senate Democrats threatened to vote against the fiscal 2017 bill if it included the border wall or defunded Planned Parenthood or sanctuary cities.
Republicans, fearful of cable news networks activating their government shutdown clocks, made no real effort to include conservative priorities, such as the border wall, that Democrats pledged to reject. Instead, individual GOP lawmakers were left to tout smaller victories in the bill that serve their constituents.