Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is ramping up the pressure on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to avoid a government shutdown by moving first on a stopgap funding bill that will pass the Senate this week, a few days before the Sept. 30 deadline.
The Senate’s plan is to send the bill to the House and put pressure on McCarthy to bring it to the floor for a vote it would pass with bipartisan support if given the chance, said senators who are calculating how the endgame will play out.
But Republican and Democratic senators admit they don’t know what McCarthy will do, and some GOP senators are worried about “sticking our necks out” if the stopgap is doomed to fail in the House.
“McCarthy’s made the decision to shut the government down. Period. Stop,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said, previewing the rhetorical offensive Senate Democrats will launch against McCarthy this week.
The Senate is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to take the first in a series of procedural votes that will tee up the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which Schumer will use as the legislative vehicle to pass the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open.
McCarthy showed growing frustration with conservative rebels Saturday, when he told reporters that hard-liners in his conference “like to stop everything, and then they turn around and say it’s your fault you’re not getting anything done.”
He complained Thursday that some “individuals” just “want to burn the whole place down.”
McCarthy’s exasperation with the obstructionists in his conference has given senators hope that he may be willing to steamroll those conservative critics by bringing a Senate-passed bill straight to the House floor.
Some Democrats expressed cautious optimism Sunday that a government shutdown can be avoided.
Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a shutdown “is not a foregone conclusion.”
“And I don’t think we’ll get to that point. I certainly hope not,” he said.
The Senate stopgap funding legislation may not include Ukraine money or disaster assistance because Senate leaders don’t want to give McCarthy an excuse for not putting the Senate bill up for a vote before Saturday, when government funding expires, Senate aides caution.
“We must work in a bipartisan fashion to keep our government open, avoid a shutdown and avoid unnecessary pain on the American people. This action will give the Senate the option to do just that,” Schumer said when he announced the vote.
The Senate is not in session Monday in observance of Yom Kippur.
Senate Republicans have urged their leaders behind the scenes to support the Senate moving first on a stopgap spending bill in order to pressure McCarthy to vote later in the week on what they expect to be a clean continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
“As Republicans, we want to offer solutions. Stalemates and government shutdowns aren’t solutions,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said. “I do worry about the political backlash. We’ve got huge problems with the border, we’ve got huge problems with the border. We’ve got economic issues, we’ve got all kinds of other issues to talk about, and yet we’re basically focusing on a malfunctioning appropriations process.”
“I’m hoping we can get our bills through here on the Senate side to prove we can do it, at least,” she said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) sent a blunt message to House conservatives Tuesday when he declared that government shutdowns are “a loser for Republicans, politically.”
Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and former Senate leadership aide, said a bipartisan vote on a bill to keep the government open will send a strong message to House Republicans.
“There’s a reason why Schumer did this. I think part of this was to just show the world that it’s not the United States Senate that’s shutting down the government, that they’ve done their job,” he said. “It’s showing the American people that a strong bipartisan majority of Democrats and Republicans passed legislation not to shut down the government, and should that occur, this is squarely on the backs of House Republicans.”
Other Republican senators have echoed McConnell’s warning that a shutdown will boomerang on and hurt House Republicans.
“I just don’t know what the House is going to get out of this. I think the term ‘box canyon’ applies,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to warn that House conservatives are forcing McCarthy down a dead-end path, politically.
GOP senators warn that President Biden and Democrats won’t accept spending bills with steep cuts, even if they manage to pass the lower chamber. And if the government shuts down, like it did in 2013 and 2019, Democrats will blame Republicans and wait for the GOP to cave.
McCarthy has been repeatedly stymied by conservative rebels in his efforts to pass a stopgap funding measure or a defense appropriations bill this month.
House GOP leaders canceled votes that were expected Friday and Saturday because of the stalemate in their conference.
Two Republican congressmen from New York — Reps. Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro — even floated the idea of voting with Democrats on a stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown if Republicans can’t unite behind a spending bill soon.
A few Republican senators have proposed adding the broader stopgap funding measure to the appropriations legislation funding military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which the House passed in July.
“I’ve suggested that,” one Republican senator said. “I think our greatest crisis at the moment is the CR and the supplemental.
“Why not use the military construction bill?” the lawmaker said.
The House-passed military construction and veterans affairs funding measure would need to be revised, however, to overcome Democratic objections. The bill passed the lower chamber with a mostly party-line vote, 219-211, in July.
Democrats criticized the House bill for cutting $1.5 billion from military construction compared to the current level and limiting women’s access to abortion.
Senate aides say that Ukraine funding will likely not be attached to any continuing resolution that moves through the Senate this week, because Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has vowed to hold up any money for Ukraine and the controversial issue would make it tougher for McCarthy to bring a Senate-passed bill to the floor.
Paul potentially could drag out consideration of the stopgap funding measure perilously close to — or past — the Sept. 30 deadline by refusing to waive procedural hurdles on the floor.
McCarthy on Friday vowed to strip out $300 million in funding for Ukraine in the defense appropriations bill after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) joined conservative colleagues in blocking the legislation.
The Speaker then reversed course Saturday, announcing that he would keep the relatively small amount of Ukraine funding in the defense bill after recognizing that the State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill, which is slated for the floor this week, also includes money for Ukraine.
Schumer told CNN on Friday that he’s still exploring options with McConnell to pass another installment of funding for the war in Ukraine.
“Leader McConnell and I are both strongly for aid for Ukraine, and I believe a majority of the members of both parties in the Senate agree with that,” he said.