The Senate’s bipartisan spending bonhomie hit a pretty significant rough patch on Thursday after progress stalled on its first package of spending bills — mostly due to conservative opposition.
Senate leaders have been working to lock up an agreement that would ensure speedy votes on amendments and final passage of the nearly $280 billion funding legislation as soon as next week. That effort has so far been relatively smooth sailing, with senators easily clearing two procedural hurdles to advance the measure along blowout bipartisan margins.
But after the second of those procedural votes on Thursday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) blocked an attempt by Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to bring a number of amendments, which would have been equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, up for a vote. Johnson is objecting to bundling measures that would fund the departments of Agriculture and Transportation with the bill that would set spending for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This place is completely out of control, completely dysfunctional. Quite honestly, we should have been bringing up these appropriations bills in May, June, July, you know, pass a budget, then go through an orderly process one appropriation bill at a time,” Johnson said.
Murray and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican appropriator in the Senate, took to the floor to rail against Johnson and the few other conservative holdouts. The objection stuck in the craw of a process that has otherwise earned bipartisan praise for its remarkable lack of drama, standing in stark contrast to the House’s spending morass.
“Listen when I say this: if we all want regular order, a key part of this is allowing senators to come down, have amendments voted on, and move forward with an amendment process so that senators can make their voices heard on our funding bills,” Murray said.
“So we can’t move at a glacial pace and we can’t have senators obstruct the process needlessly,” she added. The Senate’s spending package would still do nothing to head off a government shutdown on Oct. 1 if the House and Senate fail to agree to some kind of temporary funding patch.
By holding things up, Collins said Johnson is “setting us up for either an omnibus bill or a government shutdown.” Omnibus refers to a massive 12-bill spending package that Congress has historically rushed through without much debate.
“And none of those outcomes serve the American people well,” Collins said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, ended the week by accusing those conservative senators of “trying to mimic the Freedom Caucus in the House and holding up the defense bill which had huge bipartisan support.”
David Lim and Ursula Perano contributed to this report.