Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCommunities struggling with decline of coal can’t wait any longer on RECLAIM Act Week ahead: AT&T-Time Warner merger under scrutiny This week: Government funding deadline looms MORE (D-Nev.) has upset some Democratic senators by backtracking on his commitment to put spending bills on the floor this summer.
The broken promise is not sitting well with appropriators, but Democratic sources point to the November elections, noting appropriations bills attract a slew of controversial amendments. Keeping the legislation off the floor shields vulnerable Democrats from taking tough votes that could be used in campaign ads this fall.
Mikulski said in May that she expected to spend the weeks before the August recess putting the long-derailed appropriations process back on track.
“We’re going to be on the floor June and July and I have a commitment from Sen. Reid to do that,” she told The Hill at the time.
Instead, the Senate will consider a sportsmen’s bill, sponsored by vulnerable Democratic Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganGOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (D-N.C.), a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, legislation responding to the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, an emergency supplemental appropriations bill addressing the flood of illegal immigrants on the southwestern border, and a bill addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and a former aide to Reid, said it is the leader’s job to protect his vulnerable colleagues months before a tough election.
“That’s what leaders do, is protect their caucus. In a perfect world where everything is on the up and up, we would have the free flow of amendments as we’ve seen in years past,” Manley said.
A senior Democratic aide said spending bills would come to the floor if Republican and Democratic appropriators reach a deal that would guarantee they would reach a final up-or-down vote.
The staffer also pointed out that Reid can’t bring spending bills to the floor unless they have been marked up in committee.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed seven spending measures this year and the defense appropriations bill will be marked up next week.
Mikulski has not scheduled markups on three spending measures — the Energy and Water, the Labor Health and Human Services, and the Financial Services appropriations bills — despite expectations that the measures would be readied for floor consideration before the August break.
A Democratic senator on the Appropriations Committee said Reid pressed Mikulski to delay the markups and added that she is “frustrated.”
“It’s Reid’s decision,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity. “My guess is a couple of senators went to him and said they didn’t want to vote on some amendments.”
The senator expressed concern that Reid has adopted a defensive posture and suggested a better strategy would be to pass the bills so Democrats could brag about the popular provisions in the legislation.
The senior Democratic aide pushed back on those claims.
“It was not Reid’s decision to cancel any markups,” the aide said, calling the claim flatly untrue.
The decision to schedule a markup belongs alone to Mikulski, as chairwoman of the committee, the staffer said.
Another Democratic aide said Mikulski’s panel said a few markups haven’t been scheduled “because we didn’t know whether Republicans would try and force non-germane amendments onto the bills.”
The issue here, the aide said, is that the GOP is blocking the spending bills through procedural tactics.
Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said, “Sen. Reid remains open to floor consideration of appropriations measures if Republicans would come to him with a list of reasonable amendments, not just partisan political attacks.”
“Everything McConnell is trying to do right now is focused on undermining the president and the administration. He’s shedding crocodile tears,” he said.
Republicans, who have worked well with Mikulski during the first year and a half of her tenure as the first woman to chair the Appropriations Committee, also pointed the finger at Reid.
“Sen. Shelby and Sen. Mikulski have been a great team and are committed to moving by regular order. Unfortunately the roadblocks are coming from the majority leadership. Sen. Reid didn’t want votes on amendments and that has held up the process,” said a Senate Republican aide, referring to Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the appropriations panel.