McConnell, Rick Scott on collision course over spending deal
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is headed for another clash with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), this time over how to handle a year-end spending deal.
Scott, the chairman of the Senate GOP campaign organization, is teaming up with conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah) to argue that Republicans should push for a long-term continuing resolution that would fund the federal government until some point in 2023.
“It’s time for Republicans to stand united and demand that Congress pass a clean continuing resolution [CR] that simply maintains current federal spending levels — and not a penny more — until a new Congress begins,” the three wrote in an op-ed for Fox News.
They hope that Republicans will control the House and maybe also the Senate next year, which would allow them to have more influence over the size and shape of the omnibus spending package funding the government.
McConnell, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, didn’t weigh in during a private lunch Wednesday where GOP senators debated the matter.
But several Republican senators say McConnell wants to pass a year-end omnibus spending bill before the end of the 117th Congress, although they add the leader is playing his cards close to the vest.
One Republican senator voiced frustration that Scott is second-guessing McConnell’s approach after the two clashed publicly over political strategy heading into the midterm election.
“He should mind his business,” the frustrated senator said of Scott, who as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has become a thorn in McConnell’s side.
Scott told The Hill on Wednesday that he’s alarmed over Democrats’ failure to pass individual appropriations bills under regular order, instead letting them pile up into a massive omnibus package that is expected to come to the floor shortly before Christmas.
“This is my position. Everybody has a right to their position. We all represent our states and I think everybody ought to espouse what they believe, and we ought to fight over what we all believe and all represent our states the best way we can,” he said.
Scott, Cruz and Lee argued in their Fox News op-ed that Republicans could block funding for 87,000 new IRS agents if they gain control of one or both chambers of Congress in January.
“It should also be clear that under no circumstances should any Republican in the new majorities next year vote to fund the Democrats’ newly passed army of 87,000 new IRS agents,” they wrote, referring to a key provision of the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed Congress on party-line votes last month.
McConnell wasn’t happy when Scott introduced his 11 Point Plan to Rescue America earlier this year, which called for sunsetting all federal programs after a period of five years and requiring Congress to vote again to renew them.
The GOP leader emphasized that he, not Scott, would be majority leader if Republicans won control of the Senate.
McConnell and Scott had another run-in last month when McConnell cited “candidate quality” as a reason Republicans may not take control of the Senate in the November elections.
Scott later published a scathing op-ed in the Washington Examiner where he lashed out at Republicans who have criticized Senate GOP candidates. He said fellow Republicans “trash-talking our Republican candidates” are committing amazing acts of “cowardice” and being “treasonous to the conservative cause.”
The Florida senator, however, later insisted to reporters on Capitol Hill that he was not making any reference to McConnell but instead to Republican strategists making anonymous remarks.
Scott also came under scrutiny from fellow Senate Republicans after he pushed the NRSC to pursue an aggressive and expensive effort to find new online donors.
The Senate Republican campaign arm raised $181.5 million through the end of July but spent 95 percent of what it raised, leaving the committee with much less cash on hand than its Democratic counterpart.
Given the controversy over Scott’s leadership of the NRSC, McConnell’s allies don’t appreciate him butting into the negotiations over the year-end spending bill to propose a plan that they see as largely unworkable.
“Scott, Cruz and Lee are show horses, they’re not work horses. They don’t pass bills,” said one Senate Republican aide, who requested anonymity to comment frankly on Scott’s idea to pass a stopgap spending bill that would freeze funding levels until sometime next year.
McConnell’s allies on the Appropriations Committee warn that pushing the spending bills into 2023 will saddle the new Congress with unfinished business from the previous year at a time when they will have other policy priorities to address.
They say it will be very difficult to get the annual spending bills passed quickly in January or February because the two senior members of the Appropriations Committee, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), will retire from Congress at the end of December.
“I support a shorter deadline [for the stopgap spending] in December. You’re going to have two chairman outgoing,” said one McConnell ally on the Appropriations Committee, referring to Leahy’s and Shelby’s imminent retirements.
“We’ll be going into a new Congress, which takes longer to constitute, so it’s not going to be over in January,” said the lawmaker, predicting that the bills funding government for 2023 may remain stuck in Congress until March or April.
The source said that will hurt the Defense Department’s ability to plan for next year.
If Republicans win control of the House or the Senate, they will be focused on all sorts of organizational challenges at the end of this year and beginning of next.
Republican senators debated the issue at a Wednesday lunch meeting.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he’s open to the idea of passing a stopgap funding measure that lasts until next year, but he told colleagues at the meeting that he doesn’t want an omnibus package to lag past January.
“We’re in the minority, we could be in the majority next year,” he said, voicing support for a continuing resolution that lasts until next year.
But Cramer said Republicans should be ready to begin putting together their own omnibus spending package in the second half of November and December so it can pass in the new Congress in January.
McConnell allies say any omnibus package that passes next year in a Republican-controlled Congress will still have to be negotiated with Democrats — even if Republicans win back the Senate and House — because the legislation must overcome a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
That means the spending debate could wind up dragging well into 2023.