Senate negotiations to fund the government descended into chaos on Tuesday, underscoring the fight awaiting lawmakers as they try to prevent a shutdown.
The talks snagged almost immediately after they started amid deep disagreements over abortion and funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, among other issues.
Both sides are swapping accusations, with Republicans saying Democrats are violating the spirit of the two-year budget deal and Trump effectively throwing a grenade into the talks with his plan to raid military construction funds to build the wall.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal Fiscal spending deadline nears while lawmakers face pressure to strike deal These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ala.) warned that they’ll need to resolve the partisan fighting in order to move funding bills “if we’re going to move them very far.”
“If we’re going to have problems and disagreements, if we can have them early and resolve them, that's good. If you have them early and they continue and persist and never go away, that's not a good sign,” he added.
Congress has less than 11 working days before the deadline to either pass the fiscal 2020 bills or a short-term continuing resolution (CR).
The trouble was immediately apparent on Tuesday as the Senate Appropriations Committee started work on its first bill, covering the Pentagon.
Democrats fumed over Trump’s decision to move $3.6 billion from military construction to build the wall, following a previous move to reprogram $2.5 billion in the Pentagon’s anti-drug trafficking money.
“Congress cannot and should not be silent when the power of the purse is undermined in this way,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams MORE (Ill.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee.
“Why are we here? Why do we have an Appropriations Committee if this president can ask for money for certain purposes, we appropriate it, and then he ignores us and takes the money for his own political agenda?” he added.
Democrats are expected to force a vote on the Senate floor this month to nix the emergency declaration. They’re also planning to offer an amendment during Thursday’s full committee vote to include language in the defense bill that would prevent the administration from redirecting Pentagon money to the wall without congressional approval.
“The problem that we have now is trying to write things that are so clear that the White House can’t just ignore the Constitution,” said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyFiscal spending deadline nears while lawmakers face pressure to strike deal These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (D-Vt.), arguing that Trump’s emergency declaration had created a “lack of trust” on Capitol Hill.
It’s an unusually rocky start for a Senate committee that prides itself on being bipartisan.
Durbin was caught on a hot mic after the committee meeting appearing to tell Shelby that he might not be able to back the measure at the full committee level. It’s customary for the defense bill to clear the committee with bipartisan support.
“I don’t want to be in a spot on Thursday where I’m doing something that breaks my heart,” Durbin could be heard telling Shelby.
“If there’s a way you and I can do something on this, let me know, buddy,” he added.
Shelby responded that he would take the issue to leadership.
“You know it ain’t me,” he told Durbin.
Democrats accuse Republicans of putting $12 billion in border funding in the Senate spending bills. This consists of $8.6 billion in new funding and an additional $3.6 billion to offset funds redirected from military construction projects.
“They know darn well that a $12 billion additional monies for wall is not going to fly with Senate Democrats or the House, so they ought to get to serious negotiating now that they’ve shown the president they’re paying a little more fealty to him,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Voting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Forced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters.
The wall is just one of the fights threatening a deal.
Democrats are planning to offer their own top-line spending numbers, known as 302(b)s, for the subcommittees during a vote scheduled for Thursday. Republicans also abruptly canceled a subcommittee vote on a funding bill covering the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education.
Republicans are accusing Democrats of trying to violate the spirit of the two-year budget deal by offering an amendment to block the Trump administration's Title X rule, which would block funds from health care providers that offer information about abortion.
Republicans argue the amendment, from Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayNo. 3 Senate Democrat says Biden should tap Black woman for Supreme Court Biden's pledge to appoint Black woman back in spotlight amid Breyer retirement Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE (D-Wash.), would be a “poison pill” under a handshake deal struck by leadership and the White House this year. They say Democrats want the vote because they think they could flip one or two GOP senators.
Democrats argue that senators should go on record with their positions on the issue.
“If Senate Republicans are more willing to listen to President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE than women and patients in their own states, they should own up to it and be willing to let their votes show it,” said Murray, the top Democrat on the Appropriations labor subcommittee.
Shelby indicated that without a deal, Thursday’s full committee vote on the bill would likely be canceled. Votes are still expected for defense, as well as bills for energy and water and for state and foreign operations.
The tumultuous beginning to the Senate appropriations process, which Democrats note has begun later than at any point in the last 30 years, raises questions about when and how the spending bills will get done.
The Democratic-controlled House wants to pass a stopgap measure to extend the spending deadline into late November, though the most contentious issues could need even more time. Last year, the wall issue derailed a late-December deal and led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history.
“It’s just too bad this process didn’t start earlier in the summer,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeUS budget deficit narrows sharply GOP lawmaker opens door to funding bill to combat omicron Stand-alone reconciliation must end MORE (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations labor subcommittee.
Cole added that despite the setbacks he remains optimistic that the work can get done by year’s end.
“I’m determined to be optimistic,” he said.
Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called for his colleagues to be “grown-ups” and work out issues in the homeland security bill, which covers immigration and any potential border barriers, now.
“I don’t want to pretend that this dispute over border funding doesn’t exist like we did last cycle,” he warned. “That will get us into another multimonth shutdown.”