WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans on both sides of the Capitol are arguing over federal spending and long-term strategy as Congress races to pass a massive government funding bill before they leave town for the holiday season.
The last-minute legislative frenzy caused by a bipartisan inability to pass budget bills on time is inflaming tensions between the centrist and conservative wings of the GOP as lawmakers work to craft a massive package to fund the government for the fiscal year 2023.
Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the top Republican in the House, is taking a hard line against the bill and urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) not to make a deal with the Democrats.
McCarthy said on Wednesday that Congress should continue current funding levels into the new year so that a Republican-led House of Representatives has a chance to weigh in on the big omnibus bill.
“We are 20 days before the new members are sworn in. We have two members leading appropriations in the Senate who will no longer be here or accountable to voters,” McCarthy said at a news conference. “They shouldn’t block us now.”
McCarthy is probably trying to look tough, so his colleagues will choose him as speaker next month, but he would probably prefer to avoid a battle over spending in January, as a significant number of far-right House Republicans would oppose any federal funding bill. And unless McCarthy really wants the government to close its doors, he would have to pass the measure with Democratic votes — which would enrage the right and jeopardize his speakership.
In the Senate, McConnell faces resistance from his own right over the huge spending bill. The legislation, which he called “generally appealing,” is likely to address many GOP priorities, including an increase in defense spending and additional aid to Ukraine.
A small group of conservatives are protesting the size of the bill and the way it is being pushed in Congress — secretly, with little input from full members, and just days before a Christmas UKTN to fund the government. The bill’s agreed-upon price tag has not yet been made public, though it is expected to total more than $1.5 trillion.
Merry Christmas, America. The Democrats and the Republicans of the big government will present you a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree in Washington is a bill that has something for everyone,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said at a news conference Wednesday. “You don’t know what it is until you understand it. You can’t read it until it’s done.”
Senate Republicans held a special conference meeting this week at the request of conservatives to voice their grievances about the budget process and call for a less consolidated decision-making process. Their complaints were an indirect shot at how McConnell ran the conference, and some of the senators who called for the meeting voted against him as their leader in a tense internal election last month.
“It was actually more about why we don’t even know what this is in the week before Christmas [bill] will look like,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) told UK Time News.
Complaints about “regular order” — passing legislation through committees rather than leaders deciding it behind closed doors — are a regular feature of the modern Senate, where things usually only happen by “unanimous consent or exhaustion,” as the outgoing Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) lamented in his farewell speech last week.
Increasing congressional dysfunction has resulted in a kick-the-can approach to budgeting, with legislators regularly missing key deadlines and relying on year-end holidays, when nearly everyone wants to go home, to encourage bipartisan collaboration to make a deal. The system has not always worked. In 2018, the federal government shut down for more than a month over a dispute over immigration. Another funding lapse occurred in 2013 after Republicans demanded that the Affordable Care Act be stopped.
Right now, Congress is operating on an extremely tight timeline. Any senator could derail the passage of the spending bill and threaten closure.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the veteran Republican proprietor negotiating the spending package, didn’t seem too surprised by McCarthy’s opposition to his bill.
“He’s running for speaker, that’s what he’s supposed to say,” Shelby said Wednesday.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), one of many far-right Republicans in the House who has said he will oppose any federal funding bill unless Democrats meet a laundry list of demands, compared the spending process to desecrating the American flag and the aiming for an obscene gesture to America.
“So the American people, you have to understand what the People’s House is doing to you today: standing on the steps of the Capitol, raising their middle finger to you,” Roy said on the House floor Wednesday.