The Senate scored a victory late Thursday when lawmakers approved a must-pass defense spending bill on a bipartisan basis before leaving town for August recess. But the bill’s passage sets up a tumultuous September when Congress returns, when the two chambers must reconcile their legislation – along with a whole host of other to-dos – ahead of the fiscal year’s end.
“What are we going to do when we come back in September? Well, it’s going to be all hands on deck,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Lawmakers will have just a few weeks to resolve a number of spending fights before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. And as Congress leaves Washington behind, the country is barreling toward a government shutdown.
Nevertheless, Schumer celebrated the National Defense Authorization Act’s passage on Thursday night, with a 86-11 vote, citing it as an example of the Senate’s bipartisanship that he said sits in “stark contrast” with the House.
“We have a very divided country, we have a divided Congress, but nonetheless, we were able to come together and pass a bill overwhelmingly on one of the most important issues facing America – the defense bill,” Schumer said, adding that “the House ought to look to the bipartisan Senate as to how to get things done, instead of just throwing out partisan bills that have no chance of passing.”
Schumer cited the Senate’s work on the appropriations bills lawmakers are aiming to pass by the end of September, noting that all 12 bills had been reported out of committee on a bipartisan basis, making their passage in the upper chamber relatively painless. But the same is not likely to be true in the House.
Already the House has experienced roadblocks in its effort to approve the spending bills, with a small but vocal minority along the chamber’s right flank complicating matters.
Under pressure from conservatives who were unsatisfied with the spending levels outlined in the debt ceiling deal reached last month, Republican appropriators agreed to mark up the appropriations bills well below the agreed-upon levels, dooming their prospects with Democrats.
What’s more, a handful of culture war issues have made their way into the bills – just as they have with the House version of the NDAA – further alienating Democrats and sparking concern even among some moderate Republicans as they look to hold on to their seats in swing districts.
Even on the least controversial measures, the lower chamber saw progress in fits and starts this week. And although the House successfully passed one spending bill, which funds military construction, veterans’ affairs and related agencies – marking the first to make it through a chamber this year – another appropriations bill leaders had aimed to approve this week hit a roadblock related in part to an abortion provision that forced leaders to send lawmakers home a day early.
But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy framed the roadblock as a worthwhile setback in the effort to cut government spending.
“Any time on any single day, can we eliminate some waste and make government more accountable, more efficient and more effective – we’re going to do it,” McCarthy said. “And if we’ve got to take a couple extra days to go through – it’s not until Sept. 30 – we’re going to take that opportunity.”
Even so, the difficulty spells trouble for approving the remaining 11 appropriations bills in the House, especially with only around a dozen legislative days remaining once lawmakers return before the fiscal year deadline. And the House must additionally work to reconcile the bills with the Senate as well.
With the limited time to fund the government and avert a shutdown, approving a continuing resolution, or short-term measure to give lawmakers more time appears likely. But whether House conservatives, some of whom have said they don’t fear a shutdown, will get on board remains to be seen.