The power struggle between the top Republicans in Congress is intensifying as one of them, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is preparing to support a massive spending bill opposed by his counterpart in the House of Representatives.
Congress unveiled a 4,155-page, $1.7 trillion omnibus overnight on Dec. 20, drawing opposition from House Republicans, who are poised to take control of the lower chamber in just two weeks.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and a dozen other members warned Senate Republicans that any omnibus passing in the waning days of the lame-duck Congress would lead to intra-party battles.
“We are obliged to inform you that if any omnibus passes in the remaining days of this Congress, we will oppose and whip opposition to any legislative priority of those senators who vote for this bill—including the Republican leader,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter, referring to McConnell.
McCarthy boosted the letter.
“Agreed. Except no need to whip—when I’m Speaker, their bills will be dead on arrival in the House if this nearly $2T monstrosity is allowed to move forward over our objections and the will of the American people,” he said in a statement.
But House Republicans hold little leverage at present, unless they can convince most Senate Republicans to back them.
Senate Republican leadership showed no signs of unifying with the House Republicans.
McConnell, during a briefing Wednesday, portrayed the negotiations over the bill as going as smoothly as possible.
“I’m pretty proud of the fact that with a Democratic president, a Democratic House, and a Democratic Senate, we were able to achieve through this omnibus spending bill essentially all of our priorities,” he told reporters.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is retiring next month, said that the omnibus was the worst way to deliver spending. “The only thing worse than doing it in the worst possible way, with this one big bill at the end, would be not to do it and kick it to the new Congress,” he said.
McConnell, when asked if he supports McCarthy in the latter’s bid for speaker, laughed. “Absolutely. I’m pulling for Kevin. I hope he makes it,” McConnell said.
A quintet of fiscal Senate conservatives joined House Republicans in their criticism of the omnibus, noting how gigantic the legislation is and questioning why a short-term continuing resolution, a type of temporary funding, wouldn’t be the priority so House Republicans could negotiate from a position of power once the new Congress is sworn in.
“I think what we ought to do is we ought to be supporting the Republicans in the House. The Republicans in the House have said they do not want this bill; they want to have the opportunity to pass a spending bill when they’re in control,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who McConnell beat in the recent Senate GOP leadership race, told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“I do think this is harmful to Republicans,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) added. “You’ve got a Republican leader in the House and a Republican leader in the Senate, and they are taking diametrically opposed positions here. And I’m with McCarthy on this one.”
Since 1964, the House control has only shifted five times. None of the previous times has included a lame-duck Congress passing a massive spending bill.
Scott said the only lawmakers the Senate Republicans are helping are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Lawmakers also lamented how Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who crafted the bill on the Senate side, are both set to leave office since they both chose not to run for re-election. Leahy chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee; Shelby is the top Republican on the panel.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) was credited as the main House force behind the bill. DeLauro, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, won her bid for another term.
Pelosi said in a statement that lawmakers crafted “a strong, bicameral, bipartisan government funding bill,” with Democrats securing “an enormous increase in non-defense discretionary funding—investing heavily in families and workers, honoring our commitment to our veterans, and strengthening Democracy at home and abroad.”
Schumer, confronted with concerns about lawmakers barely having time to read the package before a vote is held by the end of the week, brushed them aside.
“Most provisions were well-known weeks and weeks in advance,” he told reporters. “Getting it done for the American people is most important.”
Schumer described the House Republicans as being discombobulated and complained that McConnell blocked the inclusion of some provisions that Democrats wanted, including extra funding for people who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“But the bill is a big step in the right direction,” he said.