July 14, 2024

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is backing Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) two-step proposal to fund the government, even though it will not include funding for Ukraine, which is a top McConnell priority.

McConnell’s decision to embrace the new Speaker’s spending strategy means Republican leaders are united heading toward the Nov. 17 government funding deadline.

As a result, there is growing pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to go along with Johnson’s plan.

Schumer has insisted for weeks that spending legislation must have bipartisan support, and with McConnell firmly on board the Johnson proposal, Senate Democrats don’t have much choice but to go along with it, too.

Schumer postponed a procedural vote scheduled for Monday on moving the legislative vehicle for the continuing resolution in order to give the House more time to act.

The big question now is whether Johnson can muster enough votes to pass the stopgap funding measure out of the House. But senators said Monday that they expect that he will get it done.

McConnell praised Johnson’s proposal Monday as “a responsible measure that will keep the lights on, avoid a harmful lapse in federal spending” and allow lawmakers to finish in their work on the annual spending bills over the next two months.

“I will continue to support the C.R. and encourage my colleagues to do the same thing,” he said.

McConnell’s allies, including Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine), had made clear last week that they are not fans of breaking up funding for federal departments and agencies into two pools of funding with different expiration dates.

Senate leaders had initially wanted to get the regular appropriations bills and an emergency supplemental foreign aid package finished before the end of the year.

But McConnell, who has come under increasing pressure from Senate conservatives to back Johnson’s strategy, indicated Monday that he would follow the new Speaker’s lead, even though it leaves funding for Ukraine in limbo over the next few weeks.

Conservatives who attempted to topple McConnell from his leadership job in November, including Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Rick Scott (Fla), called on McConnell to back Johnson’s proposal.

Facing McConnell’s and Johnson’s unified stance, Schumer signaled Monday that Democrats are ready to accept the House spending stopgap.

Schumer praised it as a good step in the right direction, because it extends government funding at current levels and does not include the steep cuts demanded by House conservatives.

“I am pleased that Speaker Johnson seems to be moving in our direction by advancing a C.R. that does not include the highly partisan cuts that Democrats have warned against,” he said on the floor.

Schumer also praised Johnson’s plan for setting a Feb. 2 funding expiration date for the Department of Defense, keeping it tied to many of the nondefense social spending programs that are important to Democrats.

But Johnson’s plan leaves aside funding for Ukraine — a top priority for the Biden administration, as well as McConnell.

If Congress approves Johnson’s proposal to extend current funding levels into 2024, there won’t be another must-pass government funding bill for Ukraine or Israel funding to ride on until January.

Lawmakers may now look at the possibility of tacking it on to the annual defense authorization bill.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Monday said he would be worried about the fate of Ukraine funding if Congress passes Johnson’s proposal.

“I think we got to get serious about it, and we got to put it together with the other major elements of the supplemental, get it all done,” he said of funding for Ukraine, warning that Congress needs to approve it before the end of the year.

President Biden proposed an emergency supplemental bill that would include money for Israel, Ukraine, the U.S. border and other priorities.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said he wasn’t happy about moving a stopgap without Ukraine funding.

“It bothers me, but we just need to make sure it gets done,” he said.

Many Senate and House Republicans, however, are insisting that Ukraine funding be attached to immigration policy reforms to dramatically reduce the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, complicating the situation.

Given how difficult it will be to reach a bipartisan deal on immigration, Ukraine funding has no clear path of passing before next year.

A bipartisan group of senators including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) will continue to negotiate on a border security proposal to be paired with Ukraine funding, but they’re not close to a deal.

Murphy has compared getting a deal on immigration policy and border security — a thorny issue that has stymied lawmakers repeatedly over the past 20 years — to sinking a “triple bank shot” in a game of pool.

McConnell’s top deputy, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), said Democrats aren’t yet ready to negotiate major border security and asylum reforms in exchange for Ukraine funding but predicted they will soften their position to get a deal.

“They have to get serious in these negotiations, and right now they’re not,” he said.

Thune said the Senate immigration talks will resume this week.

As a result, he said funding for Ukraine, Israel and border security reforms will move “on a separate track.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of McConnell’s leadership team and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said she’s not thrilled about punting the annual spending bills into 2024 but acknowledged that lawmakers in both parties are coalescing behind Johnson’s proposal.

“It’s not a responsible way to budget,” she said, referring to a long-term continuing resolution. “I like the Christmas date the best” as a deadline for passing the annual spending bills but observed “sounds like this is congealing, so we’ll just live with it.”

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