The Senate is looking to take control of the push to fund the government as it plans to kick off consideration of the first set of spending bills next week, while the House struggles to move past a morass of partisan packages.
Top appropriators Wednesday announced the upper chamber will consider what’s known as a “minibus” consisting of the Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills.
But the trouble in the House is giving senators agita. House conservatives pushed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to back away from spending levels struck in a deal negotiated earlier this year. And he’s struggled to get even full Republican buy-in on at least one partisan spending bill.
“That’s a challenge. When you make a deal, I think you should stick to the deal. Kevin negotiated that,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters. “I think it’s better for us to focus on what we’re doing here. Try to get these bills over the finish line … That will be a good harbinger, I think, of what the future is, and let the House do what the House is going to do.”
“I wouldn’t expect them to fall anywhere below what the negotiated settlement was,” Capito said of McCarthy’s deal with the White House earlier in the summer. “I don’t see how that happens.”
Congressional leaders say they’ll likely need to pass a stopgap funding measure by the end of the month to give themselves time to work out annual spending.
If no spending deal is passed by Jan. 1, an automatic overall 1 percent cut to spending programs would go into effect, something both sides would like to avoid.
Leadership in the Senate, meanwhile, is touting the progress toward passing a minibus as an example of being adults in the room willing to work across the aisle. All 12 appropriations bills passed out of committee on a bipartisan basis.
That posture has put them in the driver’s seat as they try to show that they are able to function and work collaboratively ahead of the expected conference in the House later this year.
“That doesn’t mean that everyone agreed on everything. It means something more important: it means that disagreements haven’t paralyzed the process,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in his floor remarks Wednesday. “If both sides work in good faith, embrace bipartisanship as we’ve done in the Senate, and avoid all-or-nothing tactics, then there will be no shutdown.”
Still, passing the bills will take time. The three coming up next week are expected to take at least two weeks of floor time.
The House had only passed one appropriations package — to fund military construction — prior to the August break, and it is not expected to begin consideration of more items until the week of Sept. 18. That bill was passed along party lines, a stark contrast to how the Senate has marched forward.
House Republicans punted a second bill over intraparty disagreements.
In addition to the 12 funding bills and likely stopgap bill, senators are also eyeing a supplemental package that includes $24 billion in aid for Ukraine and at least $12 billion in disaster relief for areas hit by storms and wildfires.
Despite concerns that opposition is growing among House conservatives to another batch of Ukraine funding, senators seem unfazed. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told reporters that he believes the request will be “favorably looked upon by both the House and the Senate.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) amped up the pressure on lawmakers to help Ukraine further, saying that it’s “not time to go wobbly” on supporting them in their ongoing war with Russia.
Top senators Wednesday were unsure whether the supplemental bill would be attached to a continuing resolution at the end of the month, but indicated they would not be shocked if it is.
“I don’t think those decisions have been made yet. It’s a possibility,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, adding that it’s also possible lawmakers focus on the stopgap measure exclusively and deal with the supplemental package soon after. “Right now, there are a lot of moving parts.”
One question that remains up in the air is how long a continuing resolution could last, with McCarthy last month indicating that he did not want one running until Christmas.
One Senate Republican told The Hill that talks are centered on a stopgap package running between 30 and 90 days. Some senators prefer the shorter end of that range.
“The shorter the better,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), an Appropriations Committee member. “I want to get the bills done so that they have predictability in government, not to waste taxpayer dollars.”