Senate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending

Senate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending
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The Senate is taking significant steps to lower the odds of either a government shutdown or massive omnibus spending package —all while giving itself more leverage in negotiations with the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work Reforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain Name change eludes DHS cyber wing, spurring frustration MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he had an agreement with Senate Democrats to pass a big domestic spending bill covering appropriations for the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.

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“Our hope is by the end of August the Senate will approve nine of 12 appropriations bills, which means 90 percent of the funding of the federal government — from the Senate point of view — will be done through the regular order before we get to Labor Day,” he told reporters after the Senate’s weekly luncheon.

Senate Republicans believe that passing their bills early will put pressure on House Republicans to agree to their versions of the spending bills.

That would mean dropping so-called policy riders on such issues as cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood — a thorny issue in House GOP politics.

“I think it gives us really good leverage,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenate GOP battles for leverage with House on spending Lawmakers, media team up for charity tennis event The Hill's Morning Report — Trump picks new fight with law enforcement, intelligence community MORE (R-W.Va.), a member of the Appropriations Committee. “I think everybody is sick of being gummed up.”

McConnell told reporters that the House will need to come toward the Senate GOP’s new policy of keeping riders out of appropriations bills to keep the spending process on track.

“We’ve had good cooperation over here, and the House is watching what we’re doing and they know the path to actually making law, getting these bills signed, is going to be to come in our direction,” he said.

The House is gone for the month of August while the Senate is spending much of the recess in session, giving it a chance to make progress on appropriations.

When the House returns, it will have just a few weeks before a Sept. 30 deadline to pass measures to keep the government funded — a top priority for GOP leaders just months before the midterms.

Yet asking conservative Republicans to drop battles over policy riders will be anything but easy.

It will particularly be a challenge for retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC hits Dem House hopeful as 'Pelosi liberal' in new Kansas ad Trump revokes Brennan's security clearance The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Wis.), who will be seeking to hold his caucus together ahead of the midterms.

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus frustrated with high government spending and wanting to take advantage of GOP control over Congress and the White House are unlikely to give up on the policy riders easily.

And they will be putting pressure on members of GOP leadership — specifically Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyInternet security expert: 'I don’t think it’s right to say’ tech giants are politically biased Poll: Republicans favor Scalise for Speaker; Dems favor Pelosi Jim Carrey targets McCarthy, Nunes ahead of midterms MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScalisePoll: Republicans favor Scalise for Speaker; Dems favor Pelosi Trump ally suspends reelection campaign Trump’s endorsements cement power but come with risks MORE (R-La.), who both need support from conservatives in future leadership races.

Stripping out “poison pills” would likely lose the GOP votes on the right in the House and force it to rely on Democratic votes to pass the appropriations bills. That will draw howls of protests from conservatives, as it will give House Democrats more leverage and provide a more pivotal role for House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiRNC denounces Ocasio-Cortez 'mini-Maduro' Pollster: Dem party 'rift' won't carry on to midterms The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Calif.).

“We clearly gain leverage in this process,” said a House Democratic leadership aide. “House Republicans still need to put conference reports on the floor and pass bills with Democratic support.”

Among the policies Democrats are protesting: provisions to cut environmental funding and repeal the Obama administration's Clean Water Rule; bans on the IRS revoking the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that participate in political campaigns; and the overturning of an initiative in D.C. allowing assisted suicide for terminally ill adults.

Yet in the Senate, McConnell has little choice but to work with Democrats.

He holds just a 51-49 majority — which is effectively 50-49 given Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work CNN poll: Kavanaugh has lowest public support of Supreme Court nominee since Bork MORE’s (R-Ariz.) long absence for cancer treatment.

McConnell wants to prevent a shutdown that might put his majority at risk and also wants to prevent Congress from sending a huge omnibus to President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE — who has vowed not to sign such a bill.

McConnell and Ryan have sought to reach deals on smaller spending bills, which would prevent the need for a larger omnibus.

The progress made in the Senate on individual appropriations measures represents a major break with the recent past, when spending bills rarely made it to the floor and were then piled into massive omnibus packages in December or sometimes even dragged into the following year.

This year, a confluence of circumstances has put heavy pressure on Senate Republicans to get their work done early.

The Senate has taken the unusual role of rushing ahead of the House in this year’s appropriations process, buoyed by a bipartisan deal between the top appropriators, Sens. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyForeign aid for conservation is a benefit to US consumers Rand Paul delivers Putin letter from Trump Senators privately met foreign allies to reassure them of NATO support MORE (R-Ala.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate returns to work on toughest 'minibus' yet GOP senator: Trump is ‘the only one in the government’ not paying attention to Russian threat to midterms Hillicon Valley: 'QAnon' conspiracy theory jumps to primetime | Senate Intel broadens look into social media manipulation | Senate rejects push for more election security funds | Reddit reveals hack MORE (D-Vt.).

The two agreed, with blessings from Senate leadership, to return to regular order by keeping poison pill policy riders out of the bills.

As a result, the committee was able to work through its 12 appropriations bills with relatively little fuss, passing them all with large bipartisan majorities or even voice votes. The House, on the other hand, included a slew of political provisions in its bills, which passed along strict partisan lines.

Jordain Carney contributed.