As Washington barrels toward a looming deadline to prevent a government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans alike want to set the record straight in case the lights go out: It’s the other side’s fault.
Three weeks remain until government funding is set to run out, and the House hasn’t even returned from a monthlong summer recess, but senators are already offering a preview of what is sure to be a major blame game in Congress this month should lawmakers fail to prevent a lapse in funding.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a letter to his Democratic colleagues earlier this month that a shutdown would be the fault of “political games” by House Republicans.
“When the Senate returns next week, our focus will be on funding the government and preventing House Republican extremists from forcing a government shutdown,” Schumer wrote in the letter.
Schumer went after House conservatives again in a speech on the Senate floor last week, calling out their demands and urging both parties to “get on the same page about keeping the government open.”
“The only way we will finish the appropriations process is through bipartisanship,” Schumer said. “The idea of both parties working together, not one party, particularly a party governed by an extreme 30 or 40 members filling out a wish list that they know can pass.”
The hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus last month vowed to vote against any government funding bill, including a stopgap measure, that doesn’t include a list of GOP policy priorities.
Some House conservatives have gone even further in recent months to dial up pressure by threatening a shutdown and downplaying the potential consequences, prompting uneasiness among Democrats and, in some cases, Republicans wary of a funding lapse.
But that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t also putting the blame on Democrats.
“I think the Democrats are itching for a fight,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters. “They know that spending and debt accumulation is out of control, and the Republicans have offered solutions and they refused to even consider them.”
“I think Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden want to force a shutdown. I think that’s the mistake if they did it,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday.
Leaders in both chambers are eyeing a short-term funding patch known as a continuing resolution (CR), which will freeze spending at levels last hashed out by the previous Democratic-led Congress, to buy time for negotiations.
Not all Republicans are happy with the idea, as the party focuses much of its attention on the national debt, which stands at more than $30 trillion, to press for more aggressive cuts to spending.
Other issues also stand as possible holdups to an agreement that both parties could use to bludgeon the other.
Ukraine aid is expected to dominate a chunk of attention this month, after the White House previously requested $13.1 billion in supplemental funding for the Department of Defense in response to the war in Ukraine, as well as additional funding for the State Department and other agencies.
The White House is looking for the assistance to be approved as part of a CR deal, along with aid requested for disaster relief. But some Republicans have called for the disaster funding to be delinked from Ukraine aid, particularly as the continued military assistance has seen increased scrutiny among some conservatives.
Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pushed for funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund to see priority over Ukraine aid, arguing then that the funding should be considered separately.
But as many Republicans doubled down for further support for Ukraine, Rubio acknowledged to The Hill on Thursday that he doesn’t know “how you pass a supplemental as part of a spending deal that doesn’t include Ukraine.”
“You need 60 votes in the Senate,” he said. “I don’t know how you get to that vote threshold with the number of people that support that without that being in there. My view is that we should just do the funding to replenish the emergency fund.”
“We’ve got all these obligations from previous storms that are not being met now. That should have been done back in June or July,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a problem.”
Punchbowl News reported earlier this week that House GOP leadership was considering bringing up a CR that included disaster relief and zero dollars for Ukraine. But there are Republicans and Democrats hopeful of seeing the aid pass soon.
“I think we would have the capacity to continue past this month,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told The Hill on Thursday, when pressed about the remaining aid.
“But the sooner we do it, the more efficient we’ll be in getting the aid there, and giving them, not only financial, but also political support,” Reed added.
At the same time, much work remains on the table in both chambers’ efforts to make progress toward a larger deal on how to fund the government for fiscal 2024.
With about three weeks until government funding is set to lapse, the Senate is expected to pass its first minibus of three funding bills next week. That includes dollars for the departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Food and Drug Administration.
The House already passed its first appropriations bill, allocating funding for military construction and the VA, along party lines before summer recess. But Republicans scrapped plans to pass their agricultural funding bill amid intraparty disagreements — raising concerns about the challenges the chamber will face in passing the remaining 12 partisan funding bills with a slim majority.
Asked if he thinks the party will bear the blame if a potential shutdown is on the horizon this fall, Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters this week: “Well, we usually get blamed for it … irrespective of who’s really at fault.”
“But I think most people just want to see us try and figure out a way to keep the trains running,” he said. “And so, who is blamed, I think, is probably the least of our concerns right now. It’s how do we come up with a solution that keeps the government open?”