House Democrats vowed Wednesday not to let their failure to pass a 2020 spending plan hurt their leverage as they prepare for high-stakes negotiations with the White House and Senate GOP over Pentagon and domestic funding.
Without a deal to raise spending caps, the government is facing what all sides say would be debilitating cuts across the board.
But reaching a deal to raise the caps will require Democrats and Republicans to sort out whether the military will get more, less or the same increases as domestic funding.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said any deal was always going to have to be bipartisan, meaning Democrats’ left wing won’t get to dictate cuts to the Pentagon.
“When we did the deal last year, we did it with a substantial number of Republican votes,” he said, referring to a $300 billion deal to increase the spending caps for 2018 and 2019. “I suspect, just as there was last year, there will be a lot of progressives who vote against it.”
Those liberal lawmakers balked this week at their party’s plan to boost the caps by about $350 billion for 2020 and 2021.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said they want an additional $67 billion in non-defense spending. Democratic leaders couldn’t pass that, so they pulled the bill from floor consideration.
The divide is reminiscent of the headaches that tea party-infused Republicans created for then-Speaker John A. Boehner and, later, former Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
Those conservatives often demanded much steeper spending cuts in appropriations bills than moderate members were willing to tolerate — a dynamic that sometimes forced Mr. Boehner and Mr. Ryan to turn to then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to help pull major bills across the finish line.
“I don’t participate in the German word Schadenfreude, taking delight in other people’s misery, but these things can become miserable,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska Republican and a member of the appropriations committee. “Shoe’s on the other foot.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer suggested on Wednesday that Democrats could have twisted arms and pushed the package through, but chose not to.
“Very frankly, we wouldn’t have lost any vote this week if we’d wanted to win,” Mr. Hoyer said as House Democrats kicked off a three-day retreat in Northern Virginia.
He counted as a “victory” the fact that the House did vote to set a 2020 discretionary spending number of nearly $1.3 trillion, which will allow the Appropriations Committee to start writing spending bills for next year.
“We’ve had 100 days of success and yesterday was no exception,” Mr. Hoyer said.
Rep. Brendan Boyle said Democrats would be in a stronger position going forward if they can all get on the same page.
“There’s no question that our unity is our strength, as Nancy always says,” said Mr. Boyle, Pennsylvania Democrat. “The less unified we are, the less leverage we will have. So I think that, particularly as we enter negotiations with Mitch McConnell and our Senate counterparts, the more unified we are, the better.”
Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said this week that he and Mrs. Pelosi have agreed to start staff-level talks on a two-year caps deal. Without action, defense and non-defense discretionary spending limits will ratchet down by about $125 billion in fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1.
Republicans, though, wondered what type of negotiating partner Mrs. Pelosi will prove to be, given the pressures she faces from her left flank.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe said he thinks calls from liberals to cut military spending in favor of domestic priorities — a balance known as “parity” on Capitol Hill — could ultimately damage Democrats’ stance.
“I think probably they’ll be less effective because it’s so absurd,” said Mr. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “We never had parity before the Obama administration — that’s something that came with him. And so I think the people who might be complaining [don’t] come across as very reasonable, in my opinion.”
— Gabriella Muoz contributed to this report.