Sep 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP spending turmoil comes to the Senate

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Senators are getting a taste of the appropriations drama plaguing the House after a group of Senate conservatives blocked a package of government spending bills on Thursday.

Why it matters: The Senate had so far been the bright spot in the appropriations process, as the House has struggled to pass bills due to a lack of cooperation from right-wing hardliners.

Yes, but: Some senators and aides argued not to read too much into the objections, which they said are surmountable obstacles.

Driving the news: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) objected to a package of amendments to a trio of bills funding the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development, effectively halting the process.

  • “I’m dismayed that we’ve lost another week,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who worked closely with her Democratic counterpart to craft broadly bipartisan bills.
  • “It throws a wrench into the process,” Collins said. "I don’t understand why Sen. Johnson has chosen to object … He is putting us in a position where we will have no choice but to end up with an omnibus bill, which is a terrible outcome."

The big picture: Johnson’s objection is just the tip of the iceberg — Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told Axios there are “seven or eight” senators with holds on the bill, each with a different demand:

  • Johnson wants the three bills considered separately.
  • Braun wants to eliminate earmarks.
  • Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) want votes on their amendments.
  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) wants a standalone vote on disaster relief.

The intrigue: It’s not just the Senate GOP’s right flank that wants the bills broken up into individual pieces.

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) leadership team, told Axios: “This is what happens when you put multiple bills on the floor two weeks before the deadline."
  • Cornyn argued that the Senate should consider each bill separately, given that Congress is already expected to try to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund the government before the Sept. 30 deadline.

What we’re hearing: A senior GOP aide told Axios the bill is in “limbo," but some senators argued the objections are just a routine part of the process.

  • “This is what legislation is," said Hawley. "Legislation is you put a bill on the floor, you debate it, you have amendments, you work through them."
  • "I'm sure we'll get there," he added.
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