- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suffered her first defeat at the hands of liberal lawmakers Tuesday, as a rebellion over the size of the Pentagon’s budget forced her to cancel a vote tentatively scheduled for this week on the Democrats’ broad 2020 spending plan.

Liberal Democrats were poised to vote against the plan. They said the new Democratic majority should be pouring money into domestic priorities and should reject President Trump’s calls for more money at the Defense Department.

Unable to bridge that divide, Mrs. Pelosi and her leadership team canceled a vote scheduled for Wednesday and said they would try later.

“This is not an outcome. This is a process,” the California Democrat said.

Democrats had already been bruised by their failure to write a full budget this year. The spending plan, which would have set new caps for discretionary spending on the defense and domestic sides, was a watered down.



Republicans called the failure evidence that Mrs. Pelosi can’t manage her increasingly left-wing caucus.

“House Democrats had to throw in the towel on a bill that addresses only a small part of the budget,” said Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, the top Republican on the Budget Committee. “The result is another embarrassing failure to govern.”

Since reassuming the speakership, Mrs. Pelosi had largely managed to stiff-arm or downplay major demands of liberals. She has tamped down talk of a “Medicare-for-all” universal health care plan and shunted off action on the Green New Deal environmental plan to get lost in the committee process.

Democrats avoided writing a budget because it would have created a flashpoint for those fights. Instead, they said they would focus on the nuts-and-bolts spending bills, with some $350 billion to dole out above the current legal limits for 2020 and 2021.

Leaders’ plan would have roughly matched domestic and defense increases.

But liberals said Mr. Trump got too much in the last deal two years ago, with bigger defense increases than domestic. They said this time, the Pentagon needed to take a back seat to their own priorities.

“I hope that there’s a lesson that when you have a very large caucus that’s trying to express a position that we’re taken more inclusively into consideration as they’re determining something like this,” said Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Mr. Pocan and about 20 other Democrats were pushing an amendment that called for $67 billion in additional nondefense spending over the next two years. They said they had the votes to block leaders’ spending plan unless their amendment was approved.

He and fellow co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Mrs. Pelosi and her leadership team should go back to the drawing board and return with a stronger proposal.

“Progressives will continue to seek equality in outlays between excessive Pentagon spending and critical domestic priorities and end decades of harmful austerity imposed on our communities,” they said.

But giving in to their demands could cost Mrs. Pelosi votes from more-centrist Democrats and would make it less likely that she would be able to negotiate a deal with the Republicans who control the Senate.

The House did vote Tuesday to set an overall 2020 discretionary spending level of nearly $1.3 trillion. Democratic leaders said that number will allow the Appropriations Committee to start putting together individual spending bills for next year.

House Budget Committee Chairman John A. Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat, said lawmakers will still need a more specific deal on 2020 spending levels. Without a deal, caps written into a 2011 law will kick in, ratcheting down spending by about $125 billion in fiscal year 2020, which starts Oct. 1.

“There are further conversations we must have to reach consensus between the wings of our caucus, left and right,” Mr. Yarmuth said. “But we all have a responsibility to govern and obligations to the American people, so our work continues.”

Mr. Yarmuth had cast his plan as the best starting point for negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

His proposal of up to $733 billion in spending for the Pentagon is less than the $750 billion President Trump wants but well above what liberals say they can stomach.

Mr. Yarmuth acknowledged the difficulty of keeping Democratic lawmakers in line.

“Obviously, any caucus can bring down any bill,” he said Tuesday morning. “We have to figure out whether we’re going to be able to govern. … This is a first test of it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also said talk of a two-year caps deal has already started.

“I spoke with the president last Thursday and the speaker this morning, and we’ve agreed to put together at the staff level a group to begin discussing the possibility of reaching a two-year caps deal so we can move ahead hopefully with some kind of regular appropriations process,” Mr. McConnell said.

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