Senate conservatives are trying to tighten the screws on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other GOP colleagues in hopes of blocking a year-end omnibus spending bill, threatening to drag out the floor debate right up until Christmas if necessary.
The new push from conservatives to instead pass a stop-gap spending bill freezing federal spending levels until next year, when Republicans will control the House, comes the day after Republican candidate Herschel Walker lost in the Georgia Senate runoff.
That loss expanded Democrats’ Senate majority in the next Congress and marked the latest GOP disappointment of the midterm election cycle, which Republicans entered with high hopes of recapturing the Senate.
Senate Republican Steering Committee Chairman Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued Wednesday that Republican leaders will break nearly three decades of precedent if they agree to an omnibus spending package in the lame-duck after a chamber of Congress has flipped control.
“With regard to the spending bill, it’s important to remember that since 1994 we’ve seen control of the House of Representatives shift from one party to another four times since 1994. In each of those instances, there was no omnibus passed by Congress following the election leading to that shift,” he said. “It didn’t happen because it shouldn’t happen.”
“The voters have spoken and [when] control of the House of Representatives shifts, there’s an understandable desire on part of the incoming members and especially on the part of those who elected them [that] you’re not going to have spending decisions by the outgoing Congress that was just voted out of office,” Lee argued.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said, “this has got to stop.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Congress has “abdicated our duty” to hold the “power of the purse.”
“We abdicated by letting all the spending be thrown into one bill. This is going to happen again,” Paul said. “Dec. 16, Dec. 18, we’re going to get a 3,000 page bill that will be given to us an hour or two before [coming to the floor.] No one will read it, no one will know what [is in it] but what is a guarantee is that it will add over $1 trillion in debt next year.”
Lee and Paul both declined to rule out raising procedural objections that could drag out the Senate floor debate on an omnibus right up until — or past — Christmas.
“I’m not going to rule that out. I usually don’t signal in advance precise procedural strategies that I might deploy but I’m not going to rule that one out,” Lee told The Hill.
Paul also declined to preview what he might do on the floor but also reserved the right to raise procedural objections to bog down a year-end spending package.
“Some of that depends on where we are in the whole debate process but I’m not very happy about it and someone needs to stand up and say this is a terrible way to run government,” Paul told The Hill.
“This is why we have $31 trillion debt,” he said. “It’s inexcusable to have 3,000-page bills dropped on our desk that nobody has time to read that don’t go through a budgetary process or appropriations process.”
Lee, Paul and Scott joined three other Senate Republican colleagues in sending a letter to McConnell Wednesday to “express our strong opposition to passing the Pelosi-Schumer spending bill in the lame-duck,” referring to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will step down from her leadership post at the end of the year.
“For the Senate to ram through a so-called ‘omnibus’ bill — which would fund the entirety of the Pelosi-Schumer spending agenda through most of next year — would utterly disempower the new Republican House from enacting our shared priorities,” they wrote.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) also signed the letter.
Despite the push from conservatives to pass a continue resolution instead of an omnibus, McConnell has stated his preference for passing one large bill that wraps all the annual spending bills into one large package.
Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Wednesday that he is continuing to negotiate with the panel’s chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in hopes of reaching a deal setting the top line spending numbers for the omnibus. Both Shelby and Leahy are retiring at the end of the year.
“Right now we’re probably $25 billion, $26 billion” apart from Democrats on where the top-line spending number should be, Shelby said.
“That’s a lot of money,” he added. “It’s something we maybe could work to yes on. I hope we could. I just talked to Leahy.”