On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on an underlying appropriations bill that will provide funding for social programs from healthcare and food stamps to infrastructure and veterans services.
It appears that the massive $1.3tn omnibus spending bill will also include significant spending for various social programs that are controversial on Capitol Hill, both because they touch on conservative policy issues, and because they are massive.
This was the takeaway from the Conference Committee meeting on Wednesday, during which House GOP leaders decided to leave an eye-popping $300bn of social spending out of the underlying package in order to win over fiscal conservatives. During that time, less than an hour had passed since fiscal conservatives had laid down their demands – including cuts to non-military spending – in order to secure key changes in Republican budget legislation.
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This roiling battle left congressional Republicans – who have already shown deep anxiety about pushing a trillion-dollar bill at a time when the country still faces an unemployment rate of 4.9% – to make extensive concessions to attract an estimated 20-35 conservatives who went into the closed-door meeting to defend their “pro-growth” budget legislation.
It remains unclear exactly how the GOP leaders reconciled the two sets of demands, and whether they will be able to get the measure through a House that is now in the hands of the Freedom Caucus and has very few moderates who are likely to back it. Some have already speculated that the measure might be moved to the House floor just in time for a Wednesday vote.
The omnibus bill will include the largest increases to defense spending in at least five years, as well as big increases to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Overall, it’s quite the makeover for the recently launched, quasi-independent committees charged with handling issues like healthcare, children’s health insurance and transportation. And it would bring the federal deficit to the $1tn mark, nearly twice the rate at which Congress and the White House ran it up last year.
Republicans, of course, insist that it’s all a necessary part of their long-term economic agenda, but the bipartisan realities of recent years suggest that the party’s electoral success may be as much to blame for these trends as its policy stances.