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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Senator asked FBI to follow up on new information about Kavanaugh last year Congress must reinstate assault weapons ban 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 CapitoThis week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction 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 RyanThree-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea 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 McCarthyTrump touts Washington Post story on GOP support Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseOn The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban 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 PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico This week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill 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 McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR 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 TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat 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 ShelbySenators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Ala.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine On The Money: Trump delays increase in China tariffs until Oct. 15 | Treasury says US deficit topped trillion in 11 months | Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections 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.