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Recess arrives with Schumer touting contrast with the House

Cites 86-11 defense bill vote, bipartisan Appropriations Committee work

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., confers with aides on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., confers with aides on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senators were getting ready to leave town after an overwhelming 86-11 vote Thursday night to pass the annual defense authorization bill, and Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer was doing a little bragging.

“This Senate is an example of how bipartisanship can work … Let me just reiterate, because it’s the contrast, the glaring contrast with the House, where the Republicans don’t work in a bipartisan way and just throw stuff on the floor that they know has no chance of passing,” the New York Democrat said at a news conference Thursday. “It doesn’t help the American people.”

The House vote on its version of the defense bill was 219-210, with just four Democrats crossing over to support the measure, which includes a number of contentious provisions sure to be unpalatable to the Senate. That includes amendment language that would rescind the Pentagon’s program reimbursing servicemembers who must travel to obtain reproductive health care.

The funding, which is designed to help support access for personnel in states where abortion is no longer legal, has been the reason Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has held up quick consideration of senior military promotions, much to the chagrin of the Pentagon, White House and congressional Democrats.

No senator objected to the scheduling of pro forma sessions between now and Labor Day in a bid to force action on those nominations. There was an agreement reached to quickly confirm a number of ambassador nominations for career foreign service officers, with Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul — who had been blocking some of the nominees — saying he received the commitments he needed from the State Department and USAID for information regarding COVID-19 origins.

The rules of the House grant Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and members of the majority leadership powers over considering legislation that Schumer just doesn’t have, given the threat of filibusters. So, in a sense, there is nothing new to the idea that the Senate needs to work on a more bipartisan basis to function.

But it is still notable when that does happen. In addition to the overwhelming vote on the defense authorization for fiscal 2024, the Appropriations Committee led by new Chair Patty Murray of Washington and new top Republican Susan Collins of Maine on Thursday accomplished their stated goal of getting all 12 spending bills for fiscal 2024 reported to the floor on a bipartisan basis.

“I give a great deal of credit to Patty Murray and Sen. Susan Collins,” Schumer said Thursday night. “This is a divided country. You say our politics are divided. Yet 12 appropriations bills passed in a bipartisan way out of the committee. Incredible.”

McCarthy and other House GOP leaders have taken to criticizing journalists covering the dynamics in the House for constantly questioning at the beginning of the week whether the Republican majority would accomplish its goals for the week. They also sought to take a share of the credit for the Senate Appropriations Committee’s success.

“This goes back to the beginning of the Congress when the speaker made it clear we’re not going to do omnibus appropriations bills. You had seen a pattern for years where the Senate just wouldn’t take up appropriations bills,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said at a news conference Thursday. “That’s changed because we made it clear we were not going to continue those kinds of irresponsible actions in the House.”

Still, even as the House Republican leaders were touting legislative victories in the recent months — including this week’s passage of the House version of the fiscal 2024 spending bill for military construction and veterans programs — they left for a recess Thursday afternoon that runs through Sept. 12 without taking up an expected bill to fund agriculture spending because of internal GOP disagreement about funding levels.

[House passes Military Construction-VA bill, cancels Friday votes]

Rather predictably, Schumer said Thursday that appropriations would be the priority for when the Senate returns in September, with the Tuesday after Labor Day kicking off the mad dash to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. But he made clear that’s not the only thing he wants the Senate to to.

First up will be a series of nominations, including nominations to the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Reserve.

He also highlighted the need to pass a new Federal Aviation Administration authorization (which has passed the House, but the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has yet to act), and he said work was ongoing to get rail safety and marijuana banking measures to the floor.

Caroline Coudriet contributed to this report.

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