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 McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' 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.
“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 CapitoOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Capito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization 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 RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms 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 McCarthyWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Juan Williams: Shame on the anti-mandate Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote House GOP to whip against bipartisan infrastructure bill House passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit 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 PelosiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill On The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure 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 McCainCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden Biden steps onto global stage with high-stakes UN speech 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 TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election 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 ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' 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.