House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is taking public shots at Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) plan to pass an omnibus spending package before Christmas, fueling tensions between Senate and House GOP leaders.
McConnell’s Senate allies say that McCarthy’s criticisms are “not helpful” to their efforts to pass a year-end spending package and avoid a government shutdown.
And they worry this could be a preview of a potentially “challenging” working relationship between McConnell and McCarthy in the next Congress.
McCarthy told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday evening that he hopes Senate Republicans won’t vote for the omnibus spending bill, arguing that they could save almost $100 billion in taxpayer money by voting instead for a stopgap measure that would freeze federal funding levels until next year when Republicans will take control of the House.
“They’re trying to jam us right before Christmas. Why would you ever move forward when there’s a change in power in 21 days where Republicans would have a stronger hand?” McCarthy said. “We wouldn’t be talking about adding more money. We’d talk about decreasing.”
McCarthy doubled down on his tough talk during a press conference Wednesday.
He also vowed to “sit down” with his colleagues next year and “take how much money we’re able to afford and we’d proportion it out and let all the members have that debate” on how to spend it.
But Senate Republicans predict that McCarthy — or anyone else elected Speaker in 2023 — will have a very tough time passing spending bills and will have to depend on House Democratic votes since there’s a group of House conservatives unlikely to vote for any appropriations legislation.
McCarthy himself has yet to nail down the majority of House votes he needs to become Speaker amid opposition from a small group of hard-line conservatives.
“He’s got a very thin majority and I know he knows it’s going to be hard to do some of the things they want to do,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team and a McConnell ally, said of McCarthy’s challenges running the House next year.
Asked about McCarthy’s criticism of Senate Republicans on Fox News, Cornyn said “he’s trying to navigate very difficult shoals,” referring to his quest to round up enough votes to become Speaker.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge every day,” he added, of the impact McCarthy’s need to cater to conservatives in his conference will have on working with Senate Republican leaders next year.
One GOP senator, who requested anonymity to vent frustration with McCarthy’s tactics, said he’s making it tougher to wrap up the unfinished business of the 117th Congress and stirring up conservative critics.
“I understand the politics of criticizing McConnell, but they need to have a relationship. McConnell’s got pretty thick skin but I think there’s a way for McCarthy to try to placate conservatives in the House without attacking McConnell,” the lawmaker said.
“It’s not helpful,” the senator added. “I guess most of our Senate colleagues have a pretty staked-out position on whether they vote for an omnibus or they don’t, but where it hurts is it gets our constituents calling us saying, ‘Don’t you dare vote for the omnibus.’”
Senate Republicans warn that if McCarthy doesn’t tone down his rhetoric, he may well wind up with a mess of unfinished spending bills on his lap when Republicans take control of the House next year, presenting the new House GOP majority with the enormous challenge of negotiating a major spending deal only weeks into the new Congress.
“Be careful what you wish for,” advised one Senate Republican aide in response to McCarthy’s complaints that the Senate is trying to “jam” the House by moving forward with an omnibus spending package next week.
The GOP senator said McCarthy probably couldn’t even get a spending deal passed in the first six months of next year given the internal divisions in the House GOP conference.
“We should do a bill now because I don’t see a path for a bill in the next year. [Continuing resolutions] become more damaging the longer they last,” the senator said. “Everything I know is that McCarthy is privately cheering us on to get it done but he’s in this position of trying to get the votes for Speaker.”
A second Republican senator also asserted that McCarthy privately is hoping Congress passes an omnibus bill to avoid a legislative pileup at the start of next year.
“He needs votes for the Speaker’s job but I’m told he wants it passed,” the lawmaker said. “I just can’t believe he wants all these bills piled in his lap in February.”
McConnell indicated to reporters after attending a meeting with him at the White House two weeks ago that McCarthy was on board with passing a year-end omnibus.
“We had a really good meeting. Laid out the challenges that we’re all collectively facing here. I think there’s widespread agreement that we’d be better off with an omnibus than a [continuing resolution], but there are some significant hurdles to get over to do that,” McConnell said on Nov. 29 after meeting with McCarthy, President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
A spokesman for McCarthy told The Hill Wednesday that McCarthy never agreed to do an omnibus during or after the White House meeting.
The House GOP leader said that passing regular appropriations bills would be better than passing continuing resolutions and he remains a “hard no” on the pending omnibus package, the aide explained.
“CRs are not where we want to be but if we cannot get our work done now — the outgoing majority, if they don’t want to work with us, we can get this work done in January as well,” McCarthy told reporters outside the White House after the Nov. 29 meeting.
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said McCarthy has to walk a fine line to keep his hopes of becoming Speaker alive.
“Basically, McCarthy is the Republican leader, he wants to be Speaker of the House and he’s got some dissidents there and a lot of his dissidents are going to be no on anything,” he said.
Asked about the fears of fellow Republican senators that McCarthy couldn’t get any spending deal passed if Congress punts the omnibus into 2023, Shelby said: “He could be in limbo the whole year.”