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 McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation 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 CapitoOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Republican senators skeptical of using national emergency for wall funding 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 RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King 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 McCarthySteve King fundraising off controversy surrounding white supremacy comments House rejects GOP measure to pay workers but not open government McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Pelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump House GOP blast Pelosi for suggesting State of the Union delay 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 PelosiOn The Money: Trump teases 'major announcement' Saturday on shutdown | Fight with Dems intensifies | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking trip to Afghanistan | Mnuchin refuses to testify on shutdown impacts Ellen DeGeneres buys cheesecakes from furloughed federal workers who were baking to make ends meet Trump teases 'major announcement' about shutdown on Saturday 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 McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally 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 TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' 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 ShelbyCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ala.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGOP insiders knock their depictions in new Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice’ Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence Barr says Trump won't be allowed to 'correct' Mueller report 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.