Senate bracing for possible long weekend
The Senate is bracing for a long weekend as lawmakers scramble to prevent a third government shutdown that would begin Friday night at midnight.
Leadership is hoping to quickly schedule a vote on the $1.3 trillion omnibus, but is struggling to lock down the consent of every senator. When the chamber will take action, or if it will be able to meet the deadline, remains unclear.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on the House-passed bill early Thursday evening.
But under the Senate’s rules, the earliest the Senate could hold an initial vote is early Saturday morning. After that, senators could drag out the debate for up to an additional 30 hours — potentially pushing final passage of the bill until roughly 8 a.m. on Sunday.
“Any senator can decide to string out the process,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), explaining the chamber’s dilemma. He added it could be a “long couple of days.”
When reporters pressed him on the schedule, he quipped: “Y’all seem very anxious. You don’t want to spend your weekend with us?”
Beyond filing cloture, McConnell offered no hints about the path forward, or when the Senate will be able to break the current stalemate that has thrown the government into limbo.
The Senate’s schedule largely comes down to one senator: GOP Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.).
There is no doubt the bill will pass the Senate. It easily was approved by the House and has support on both sides of the aisle.
But Paul can slow its progress, and while he has been mum on his plans, he’s signaled he may draw things out.
“Page 281 of ‘crumni-bus’. CIA retirement funding. Wouldn’t it be great to amend out the retirement benefits of Trump hater John Brennan and Congressional dissembler James Clapper,” he said Thursday as part of a string of tweets detailing his progress in reading the 2,000-plus page bill.
Clapper and Brennan are both frequent Paul critics. Clapper is the former director of national intelligence, while Brennan is the former CIA chief.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul, sent out an email blast to reporters urging them to check out Paul’s Twitter feed.
“Many of you have asked for updates. While everything remains in flux, I did want to share with you our twitter. We are posting some egregious examples of government spending. Worth a click!” he said.
Senators and reporters alike were keeping a close watch on Paul on Thursday as they tried to parse whether or not he would force a repeat performance of his hours-long shutdown from February.
The libertarian-minded GOP senator antagonized his colleagues by keeping the chamber in session until nearly 2 a.m.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) acknowledged he didn’t know if Paul would cooperate, but “hopefully he had time to make the point he wanted to make three weeks ago.”
Republicans say Paul did not hint at his plans during a closed-door caucus lunch, which was largely a celebration for retiring GOP Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who is set to retire after four decades next week.
“There are a lot of people who are going to put pressure on him,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).
Asked if there was an effort to “prevail” on Paul, he added: “There always is. I’m not being cute. I think there always is an effort.”
For a brief moment Thursday it appeared Paul could have a partner in crime in his stalling tactics: GOP Sen. John Kennedy (La.). told reporters that he hasn’t made a decision about if he would slow walk the bill, adding that the legislative process “sucks.”
But he had backed down by Thursday afternoon, saying he would oppose the bill but let it pass quickly.
“I’m not going to try to delay it out of respect for my colleagues,” he said.
The colossal funding package, which funds the government through the end of September, includes $695 billion in defense funding and $591 billion in nondefense funding.
Conservative lawmakers fumed over the higher spending levels, as well as a litany of unrelated issues stuck into the funding bill that is expected to be one of the last major pieces of legislation Congress passes before the midterm election.
“I could not be more discouraged about where we are today with our adult leadership here in Congress and at the White House. This is one of the most grotesque pieces of legislation I can remember,” said GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.).
Other lawmakers grumbled about the breakneck pace of the 2,000-plus page omnibus, which cleared the House less than 24 hours after it was released.
Perdue, who is part of a committee aimed at reforming the appropriations process, added: “You all I know how I feel about the process. … [This] is just not the way to govern at all.”
But with a Christmas tree of legislative priorities included in the bill, leadership in both parties took a victory lap to tout wins for their side of the aisle.
McConnell pointed to the increase in defense funding, calling it a “top priority” for Republicans.
“First and foremost, in my view, this bill will mark the end of disproportionate and harmful cuts to Department of Defense funding. It delivers the largest year-on-year increase in defense spending in 15 years,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held a joint press conference on Thursday to tout provisions their party secured in the legislation.
“It was weeks of pain-staking negotiations,” Schumer said. “We Democrats are really happy with what we were able to accomplish on a number of priorities.”
He added that “this spending agreement brings the era of austerity to an unceremonious end.”