The Senate’s game of amendment whack-a-mole continued as leadership worked to resolve holds on the chamber’s three-bill spending “minibus,” only for more issues to appear in their place.
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., blamed Republican “poison pill amendments” for the delay last week but said he hoped to resolve disagreements and start voting on amendments soon. But an agreement that would allow the spending package to come to the floor proved elusive, and senators said they were still hotlining amendments as the time ebbed away.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., took to the floor late in the afternoon Thursday amid speculation that she would announce that final issues had been resolved. But Murray wrapped up business for the day without mentioning spending bills. The Senate is holding only a pro forma session Monday and will resume legislative business Tuesday.
“Senator Murray continues to work closely with Vice Chair Collins and leadership on both sides to come to a bipartisan agreement as soon as possible to lock in amendment votes so that the Senate can debate, vote on, and swiftly pass this package of appropriations bills that all advanced out of committee unanimously,” a committee aide said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that leadership resolved “one major issue this morning” and was close to reaching a deal on the “final issue.”
She said she hoped the package that would combine fiscal 2024 Military Construction-VA, Agriculture and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills would come to the floor as soon as senators return this week. The House-passed Military Construction-VA bill is being used as the legislative vehicle for the spending minibus.
Collins declined to identify either the resolved or remaining issue delaying consideration of the package.
But Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Democrats’ objections to an amendment he offered with Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., were holding up the proceedings. The amendment would stop the Transportation Department from directing state and metropolitan transportation authorities to establish their own targets for lowering and measuring carbon emissions. The DOT proposed the rule last year but hasn’t implemented it.
“Senate Democrats are objecting to my germane, bipartisan amendment because they know it will pass if they followed regular order like they said they would,” he said in a statement.
The hang-up centered on whether to set the threshold to adopt Cramer’s amendment at a simple majority or at 60 votes, an aide familiar with deliberations said.
Holds on an amendment offered by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., that previously held up the package appeared to be resolved by Thursday afternoon, according to a second source familiar with deliberations.
Kennedy’s amendment would protect access to guns for veterans who have a financial professional appointed to help manage their VA benefits. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs is required to notify the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System if that occurs.
Kennedy said Thursday he thought the hold on his amendment was the final hurdle, but by afternoon it became clear that issues around Cramer’s amendment remained outstanding. Kennedy added that he was surprised by recent Democratic objections since he had submitted it to the hotline procedure for unanimous consent five weeks ago.
“Everyone was fine with considering it. The night before last, somebody or somebodies became very unhappy with my amendment. My response was well, then, vote against it,” he said.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., voiced strong objections to Kennedy’s original amendment and a revised version but said he would fight it on the floor and later in conference, if necessary. A simple majority would be needed to adopt the amendment, he said.
“If either of Sen. Kennedy’s amendments were to become law, you would see an immediate massive rise in veteran suicides,” Murphy said. “We’re going to fight it on the floor and try to defeat it.”
The longer senators delay consideration of the appropriations minibus, the greater the risk that something more pressing could take priority. Government funding runs out on Nov. 17, and already pressure is mounting for the Congress to pass a supplemental spending package to provide aid to Ukraine and Israel.
When asked when the minibus could come to the floor, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who sits on the Appropriations Committee and chairs the Armed Services Committee, said a supplemental should be the “first priority.”
“The need to respond to the crisis in both Israel and Ukraine is so significant, and we have very strong bipartisan support here for both Israel and Ukraine,” he said. “That will give us momentum.”
The White House on Friday delivered a request for a $106 billion supplemental package to fund Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and the southern border.
Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.