WASHINGTON - Republicans in the Senate Thursday rejected cutting agency budgets below levels agreed to in last summer's budget and debt pact with President Obama as a key committee kicked off action on a round of 12 annual spending bills totaling more than $1.1 trillion.
It's a break with their GOP counterparts in the tea party-flavored House, who are moving ahead with bills that break with the budget pact by cutting $19 billion from annual agency budgets and shifting more money from domestic programs to the Pentagon.
The House GOP moves caused the White House on Wednesday to vow to veto spending bills unless GOP leaders promise to add back the money they're cutting from programs like education and housing.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is among those breaking ways with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) in supporting the spending levels in a Senate Appropriations Committee vote. The panel also gave overwhelming 28-1 approval to spending bills setting the budgets for agencies such as NASA and the FBI and programs ranging from air-traffic control to funding for scientific research.
The Senate panel, along with its House counterpart, is getting off to an unusually early start to the annual round of appropriations bills in hopes of getting the politically shaky process back on track. Foot-tall omnibus measures have been the norm in recent years as the House and Senate have failed to pass the 12 bills separately under the traditional rules.
Both McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) say they want to try to restore the broken appropriations process, but plenty of hurdles are in their way, not the least of which are stalling tactics by conservatives and politically inspired amendments that Democrats may not want to vote on.
But the biggest obstacle remains the House, where the decision to break with the budget accord means that some measures are unlikely to advance because of Democratic opposition. The pragmatic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Harold Rogers (R., Ky.), has started off on a bipartisan note by forestalling major cuts to energy and water development programs and the departments of Commerce and Justice, in the opening round of bills.
Still, GOP cuts to education, housing, Amtrak and other programs will guarantee battles with Democrats and the White House.