September 18, 2023

Dems urge McCarthy to face reality, work with them on spending bills

NDC Vice Chair Schneider: “We’re going to soon enough find out whether McCarthy has the political will to put the country first and stand up to his most extreme members”

With the clock ticking to fund the government and avoid a shutdown at the end of the month, Democrats are pressing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to accept an idea that seems inevitable: You will need us, one way or another.

Why it matters: Any spending bills will need agreement from the Senate and President Biden — a challenge for McCarthy, whose right flank in the House is steering him toward severe budget cuts while threatening to replace him and seemingly welcoming a shutdown.

Driving the news: All 98 House Democrats in the center-left New Democrat Coalition have signed a letter to McCarthy urging him to put the Senate's bipartisan appropriations bill up for a vote, rather than trying to pass House Republicans' party-line bills.

  • "The bills the [House Appropriations] Committee has been able to advance have passed along strictly partisan lines … with no chance of becoming law," reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Axios.

  • "Whether the Senate bills pass or fail, all Representatives — Republicans and Democrats — deserve the opportunity to show their constituents that they are working to responsibly keep the government open."

  • "There is no scenario where the government doesn’t continue operating without a bipartisan agreement,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) told Axios.

The need for Democratic votes was underscored Sunday night when conservatives swiftly voiced opposition to a short-term spending bill designed by House GOP groups to pass along party lines.

State of play: The Democrat-led Senate's spending bills have garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, with 91 senators voting to advance a trio of them last week — though a small group of Senate conservatives is at least temporarily blocking the process from moving forward.

  • The GOP-led House, by contrast, has passed just one of 12 appropriations bills while being forced to spike planned votes on two others because of internal division and a lack of Democratic support.

  • The House, under pressure from the right, has moved bills with spending levels below the caps set earlier this year in the bipartisan debt ceiling deal. The bills also include restrictions on abortion access, transgender care, diversity and inclusion programs and affirmative action — all non-starters for Democrats.

  • Republicans' proposed bill to fund the government for another month after Sept. 30 includes border legislation that would be a non-starter for Democrats.

What they're saying: “We’re going to soon enough find out whether McCarthy has the political will to put the country first and stand up to his most extreme members,” Schneider, vice chair of the New Dems, told Axios.

The big picture: The New Dems' letter is the latest effort by Democrats to pressure McCarthy to seek bipartisan solutions. It follows Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) repeated attempts to shame McCarthy for his party-line approach.

  • "We've seen bipartisan work in the Senate, and now the House must follow suit,” Schumer said in a floor speech last week.

The other side: House Republicans argue that passing party-line GOP bills in their chamber will strengthen their hand in eventual negotiations with the Senate.

  • "We need to work together to pass these appropriations bills so we have leverage," Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) told Axios.

  • Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chair of the House Rules Committee, said the Senate bills are “pretty consistently above” the spending caps in the debt ceiling deal, and “ours are below. So guess where the natural compromise is.”

What we're watching: House GOP hardliners have been willing to break with their party on "rule" votes — key procedural votes to advance bills to the floor that are typically along party lines, regardless of how lawmakers feel about the underlying legislation.

  • But it's not yet clear whether Democrats are prepared to bail out McCarthy on spending rule votes as they did with the debt ceiling bill in May.

  • "Republicans temporarily hold the gavel. Extreme MAGA Republicans are responsible for passing the rule," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Thursday.

  • Schneider said he would be “more than open” to helping with a stopgap bill without the add-ons the right has demanded, but “as soon as you start adding other considerations, I’m going to judge each consideration on its own.”

Between the lines: Some conservatives, while acknowledging the eventual resolution will likely be bipartisan, still say the composition of the bills matters greatly for McCarthy's standing within his conference.

  • "If it ends with 200 Democrats and 50 Republicans voting [for it] ... that's perilous," said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). "If it ends with 190 Republicans and 30 Democrats, that's not perilous."

  • "Anything the Senate cooks up is likely to be a lot more Democratic than Republican over here."

Go deeper: McCarthy's crumbling house of cards

By:  Andrew Solender
Source: Axios