Reid unites grumbling caucus, has votes to pass spending bill

Reid unites grumbling caucus, has votes to pass spending bill
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? MORE (D-Nev.) has united his Democratic colleagues to support a funding bill that would avert a government shutdown.

The coalescence of Democrats means the Senate will likely pass a funding bill and throw the ball back to the Republican-led House later this week.

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Reid’s ability to forge a consensus within his caucus — despite the grumbling of liberals — stood in contrast to the Senate GOP conference, which split Tuesday over the tactics for defunding ObamaCare.

Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDistance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream MORE (D-Iowa), a prominent liberal and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he wished Reid had taken a different approach.

He said he thought Reid should have boosted the funding level to force Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World MORE’s (R-Ohio) hand.

“I would have tried it and sent it to the House and let them cut it back again, but I guess my advice was not taken,” he said. “I think a lot of us wanted him to go at that $1.058 [trillion] level. I would still like to do it at that level.

Instead, Reid will adopt the level set by the House, $986.3 billion, which continues current funding levels.

“There’s a big difference between $986 billion and $1.058 trillion that could help us out a lot,” Harkin said.

Nevertheless, he will support Reid.

“Am I happy? No. Will I support it in the spirit of compromise? Yes,” said Harkin.

Reid argued Tuesday that the spending level of a stopgap doesn’t matter because the total amount of discretionary spending for fiscal 2014 is subject to a limit set by the Budget Control Act and automatic cuts known as sequestration.

Labor unions and liberal advocacy groups, however, have come out strongly against the House funding level.

Reid’s acceptance of the House GOP’s number could set up a clash with House Democrats, who have panned it as too low.

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the assistant House Democratic leader, said Tuesday he wanted the Senate to use the stopgap to increase funding levels.

“I would hope the Senate would put in language to eliminate the sequester as well, because I’m fearful that if the numbers come back through us, sequester still in place, I’m afraid that [Office of Management and Budget] will fund at a much lower level or would authorize funding at a much lower level, thereby baking in the sequester,” he said in an MSNBC interview.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's 12:30 Report Top House, Senate Dems ask Interior not to eliminate national monuments Dem senators accuse Trump of purposefully holding back information MORE (Ill.) told reporters he did not know of any Senate Democrats who will vote “no.”

“I feel good about it, but we haven’t done a hard whip count,” he said.

The picture was different in the Republican Conference, which argued over tactics at a lunch down the hallway from where Democrats were meeting.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (Ky.) and members of his leadership team argued for ending debate on the House-passed continuing resolution to allow it to reach a final vote.

“Invoking cloture on a bill that defunds ObamaCare, doesn’t raise taxes and respects the Budget Control Act, it strikes me as a no-brainer,” McConnell later told reporters.

Because of procedural reasons, Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzFEC faults Cruz on Goldman Sachs loans in rare unanimous vote CBO score underlines GOP tensions on ObamaCare repeal Republicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions MORE (R-Texas) and his allies are seeking to thwart the House-passed appropriations measure.

McConnell, who is facing a primary challenge, also urged his colleagues to shorten the Senate debate as much as possible to give BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World MORE more time to react to whatever changes the Senate makes to the stopgap.

“My own view is, it would be to the advantage of our colleagues in the House ... to shorten the process,” he said.

Yet McConnell acknowledged he has little control over whether his own conference will let that happen.

“Any one senator can object to any effort to shorten the process,” he said.

Cruz and Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeRepublicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions Senate gears up for fight on Trump's 0B Saudi Arabia arms sale Senate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote MORE (R-Utah), two Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers spearheading an aggressive approach to defund the Affordable Care Act, pushed back against McConnell.

Cruz took to the Senate floor after the lunch to deliver a multi-hour speech urging colleagues against voting to end debate. He says that voting to set up final passage will allow Reid to strip language defunding ObamaCare with a simple majority vote.

Brian Phillips, a spokesman for Lee, said his boss does not want to yield back time — at least not yet — because he wants to have as much time as possible to persuade colleagues to support filibustering the stopgap.

“Those who support cloture on the bill are supporting procedural tricks to help Reid cut the bill,” he said.

He said Cruz and Lee “still have an opportunity to explain to colleagues why they should oppose cloture on the bill.”

McConnell warned the aggressive approach could backfire by extending the Senate debate and giving Boehner little time to respond to Senate-passed changes.

“I do know that if the House doesn’t get what we send over there until Monday, they’re in a pretty tough spot,” he said.

Reid countered that if Boehner tries to tinker with the Senate’s version of the bill, “that is a surefire way to shut down the government.”

Reid said he will shorten the House-passed continuing resolution to 45 days to increase the likelihood of Senate and House negotiators reaching a deal later this year to pass the annual appropriations bills.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems urge White House not to roll back free birth control rule Overnight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Sanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill MORE (D-Wash.) and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? MORE (D-Md.) hope that will put pressure on Republicans to discuss a budget agreement to replace sequestration.

Bernie Becker contributed.