Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks with the media after the Senate Policy Luncheon on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks with the media after the Senate Policy Luncheon on Wednesday. Jose Luis Magana/AP

After Falling 'Badly Behind Schedule,' Senate to Begin Moving Spending Bills Next Week

House and Senate must still strike an agreement to avoid a November shutdown.

The Senate will look to advance its first packages of fiscal 2020 spending bills next week, with leadership in the chamber already acknowledging lawmakers have fallen behind schedule. 

In what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., described as an olive branch to his Democratic colleagues, Republicans will first bring up a package of appropriations measures to fund domestic agencies. Under a budget agreement signed by President Trump earlier this year, most agencies will receive a funding boost once full-year spending levels are set. Federal agencies are currently operating under a stopgap continuing resolution, which is set to expire Nov. 21. 

Starting with domestic agencies enables Democrats to focus on their priorities before turning to much stickier defense appropriations, to which members of the minority party have objected in an effort to block the Pentagon from shifting funds around to pay for new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. The full Senate has yet to approve any spending bills for fiscal 2020, though its Appropriations Committee has—mostly with bipartisan support—sent 10 of the 12 annual must-pass measures to the full chamber for consideration.   

“Congress has fallen badly behind schedule on appropriations,” McConnell said from the Senate floor on Thursday, noting Democrats objected to a package of spending bills in mid-September that included defense. “It is time to make progress.”

McConnell vowed to stick to the domestic spending measure if it can clear an initial procedural hurdle next week. He called on Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to craft the details of that package. The Senate would subsequently turn to a second package including defense spending, McConnell said. 

“Let's make good on all the talk about bipartisanship and finally make progress toward funding the government,” the majority leader said. 

Even if the Senate is able to advance its own spending bills, it would still have to reconcile them with the House. Democrats in the lower chamber have approved 10 of the 12 annual appropriations measures, largely along party lines. Earlier this week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., indicated lawmakers may need to pass another stopgap bill to avoid a shutdown in November. 

“We are prepared to cooperate with the administration and with our Republican colleagues to ensure that the government is funded and serving the American people and defending the American people,” Hoyer said. “The Senate has not passed any appropriations bills. We're concerned about that, but we're going to work very hard between now and Nov. 21 and thereafter if necessary—I hope it's not necessary—to get agreement so that the government can be operational.” 

Democrats have included several policy riders in their spending bills that could hold up negotiations, related to wall funding, blocking the elimination of the Office of Personnel Management as an independent agency, abortion policy and withholding funding for Trump’s push to hold the next G-7 meeting at his resort in Doral, Florida. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said this week the two chambers have made little progress in setting the top-line funding level for each of the 12 annual spending bills. McConnell, meanwhile, highlighted the appropriations process as a way for Democrats to demonstrate they are willing to move critical legislation even as they attempt to impeach President Trump. 

Democrats “insist” that despite their differences with Trump, McConnell said, “They are still prepared to tackle important legislation and do our work for the American people. Well, next week they'll have an opportunity to prove it.”