Congress leaves for August recess with little movement on appropriations bills

The Senate passed 12 bills out of committee, but floor votes stall.

July 28, 2023, 4:41 PM

The government funding fight continues under the threat of a looming shutdown as both chambers left town for August recess.

The House left town Thursday after only passing one of 12 appropriation bills while the Senate has not passed any on the floor. When lawmakers come back to the Capitol in mid-September, they'll have only a few short weeks to fund the government before the Sept. 30 deadline.

The House passed the Military Construction Veterans Affairs spending bill on Thursday by a 219-211 vote, with every Democrat and two Republicans voting against it. However, GOP leaders put off a vote on the agriculture spending bill until September because of internal disagreement within the GOP conference.

The biggest challenge for Speaker Kevin McCarthy in September is uniting his fractured conference on spending. The House Freedom Caucus and other right-wing members continue to push for deeper spending cuts far below the levels the speaker agreed to with President Joe Biden on the debt limit deal.

Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said the group is "committed to using every tool at our disposal" to go back to pre-COVID level government spending with the appropriation bills.

"Sadly, unfortunately there are some Republicans in the House who don't want to cut spending, worst yet many Republicans in the Senate want to actually increase spending," Good said earlier this week.

Good also suggested a partial government shutdown remains on the table -- and even seemed to encourage the possible outcome.

"We should not fear a government shutdown. Most of what we do up here is bad anyway. Most of what we do here hurts the American people," he said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are united in voting against House Republican spending bills.

The appropriations process "has been hijacked by the most extreme wing of the Republican Party," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at his press conference Thursday.

"Instead of taking a bipartisan approach to figuring out how we invest in the health, the safety and the economic well-being of the American people, extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked every single one of these appropriations bills that it is our responsibility to pass," Jeffries said.

Jeffries said the House GOP "are marching the American people and the Congress toward a government shutdown."

House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark said Thursday that Republicans only passed one appropriations bill because the "extremists are holding your conference hostage."

"We should be staying here completing these appropriation bills, stripping out the toxic, divisive, bigoted riders that have been put on these bills and get back to work," Clark said.

To avoid a government shutdown, House and Senate leaders will need to work together to come to an agreement on spending. Majority Leader Steve Scalise said the House and Senate appropriations committees will continue negotiations over the August recess to meet the September deadline.

"Let's not sell ourselves short. Let's put the pressure that needs to be there on the Congress, the House and the Senate to move as many bills through the process as possible, but ultimately to actually into conference committees again," Scalise said.

The Senate has seen greater bipartisanship and committee work on appropriations than they have in years past. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed work on its final appropriation bill, passing all 12 appropriations bills out of committee individually for the first time in half a decade.

But the Senate is a long way from passing these bills.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who sets the schedule for the Senate floor, committed in a joint statement with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell during the debt limit debate to "seek and facilitate floor consideration of these bills with the cooperation of Senators of both parties."

It's not clear exactly what form that will take when the Senate returns after its August recess, but the bills are largely expected to come to the Senate floor for consideration in groups, sometimes referred to as "minibuses."

Even if the Senate can successfully act on its appropriations bills, these bills are vastly different from those being passed by the House, with the Senate bills drafted in alignment with the debt limit deal struck by McCarthy and Biden early this summer.

"The House and Senate are worlds apart when it comes to the appropriations process," Schumer said during a press conference Wednesday.

Some Republicans have already expressed concerns about cuts to defense spending agreed to in the debt limit debate. Those concerns could lead to consternation on the Senate floor when defense related bills come up for a vote.

"I hope there won't be a government shutdown," Schumer said late Thursday at a press conference. "There are some on the hard right in the House who want a shutdown," Schumer said. "But again, given what the Senate has done with 12 appropriations bills passed in a bipartisan way, I'm very hopeful that the House will accede to the Senate."

"I don't want to see a government shutdown," McCarthy said at a press conference Thursday. "I want to find that we can find common ground."