With the ink on the latest agreement barely dry, there’s already talk of another shutdown.
Democrats and Republicans are battling over dozens of controversial policy riders that threaten to derail the year-end deal and thrust lawmakers into a standoff.
The fight could take down the defense appropriations bill, which is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Thursday.
Democrats say they will block it unless they get a guarantee from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to send all of the other appropriations measures to President Obama’s desk.
So far, there’s no indication the GOP leader will make such a promise.
Republicans will likely agree in the end, however, to move all the spending bills together, because most voters would likely blame their party for a shutdown.
In the meantime, they are happy to stick to a piecemeal approach and collect political ammunition against Democrats who block military funding.
“I think they’re making a serious mistake,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.). “If you’re going to play games with the nation’s defense and the men and women who serve, I think it’s a bit dangerous.”
Each side is accusing the other of playing games only days after big votes in both chambers appeared to settle things.
The imbroglio must be resolved by Dec. 11, when a government funding stopgap expires.
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, is warning the GOP to back off.
“Republicans should be crystal clear: If they insist on inserting poison-pill riders into the omnibus bill, they’ll be dragging us into another government shutdown,” he said.
Democrats say Republicans are trying to wriggle out of the deal by giving priority to defense spending. A core tenet of the accord was that defense and non-defense programs would be increased by equal amounts, they point out.
“It appears they still can’t get it out of their system,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said, accusing Republicans of wanting to shutter the government.
Republicans claim that Democrats are the ones backsliding by threatening to block spending bills after reaching an agreement on the top-line numbers.
“They’re delusional. They think there’s some trick. There’s no trick. The spending caps have basically been agreed to,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Democrats say that moving the defense bill separately raises the risk that Republicans will attempt to attach poison pills to other spending measures and be content to simply pass stopgaps for other federal agencies if Democrats block those riders.
“I’m voting against the motion to proceed [to the defense bill] unless we have a memorialized way of saying that this will not be a repeat, which is when defense appropriations was passed and everything else was a [continuing resolution],” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Right now we do not trust this process,” she added.
Democrats argue that McConnell has backed them into a corner by forcing them to consider the defense bill on its own.
Because the measure is the GOP’s top spending priority, they fear they would lose a bargaining chip if it’s signed into law — leaving them with less leverage to keep riders off other spending bills.
Republicans say Democrats have moved the goalposts.
“They got a deal on the budget numbers, which is what they wanted. Why would they filibuster the defense bill?” said a senior GOP aide.
But Democrats say the deal was to move an omnibus package that included funding for all federal departments.
“We agreed to a budget framework to keep the government open through an omnibus package. The time for regular order, for taking up, considering and passing each appropriations bill separately, was months ago,” said Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), another Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
Republicans are pushing nine riders chipping away at ObamaCare, including language prohibiting the Department of Health and Human Services from funding state insurance exchanges.
They are also pushing add-on provisions to repeal parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, curb the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and block the Federal Communications Commission from issuing net neutrality rules pending the outcome of legal challenges.
Democrats have demanded that Republicans keep these provisions off the spending bills, but GOP leaders have refused.
“This is the legislative branch, and the power of the purse rests within the legislative branch, and we fully expect that we’re going to exercise that power,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters earlier this week.
Senate leaders say another round of negotiations will be needed to settle the dispute over riders.
“It’s time for Sen. McConnell as well as Speaker Ryan to really show us their riders,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.). “Democrats should do the same.
“Let’s have an honest negotiation of how we’re going to end this appropriations process,” he added.
Senate leadership sources are more optimistic about the resolution of a multiyear transportation reauthorization bill, which is expected to include a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
A senior Senate GOP aide predicted the House would pass this week a highway bill similar to what the Senate passed in July.
Senate aides projected the Senate and House versions would be merged in a conference negotiation and scheduled for floor votes before Thanksgiving. The Export-Import Bank reauthorization is likely to be included, which would resolve another of this year’s outstanding fights.