The stalemate in the House is forcing the Senate to pick up the legislative slack and take the lead on spending.
That includes keeping the government funded, as well as an emerging aid package that includes money to help Israel and Ukraine and to ease concerns at the U.S.-Mexico border, a top issue for House Republicans they may have precious little say over.
“It’s just so difficult to read how the gears start turning again in the House,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), an ally of Senate GOP leadership, told The Hill. “We just can’t sit and wait.”
House Republicans are entering their third week without a Speaker at a crucial point in the year.
There is less than a month before the next government shutdown deadline, with the House having effectively zapped three weeks of the stopgap bill that ultimately led to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) losing the Speakership earlier this month.
The Senate is also set to work up the White House’s $105 billion supplemental package that includes aid for Israel and Ukraine in their battles against Hamas and Russia, respectively.
This leaves lawmakers with a time crunch, as they hope to get the work done before Thanksgiving without much help from across the Capitol complex, where funding legislation normally originates.
President Biden’s request to Congress included $61 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel, $14 billion to beef up border operations, $10 billion in humanitarian aid and $2 billion for Indo-Pacific security assistance. The push for Ukraine aid comes after Congress was unable to include it in the 45-day continuing resolution lawmakers passed at the end of last month.
Efforts on the Israel and Ukraine fronts in Congress are being shepherded by the two Senate leaders. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been a leading proponent for the boost in funds, saying in a statement after Biden announced his plan that it “sends a clear message to America’s friends and allies that we have your back.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also appeared on a pair of Sunday talk shows last week to talk up the need for funds to help the two war-torn countries, having said Friday that the situation requires “decisive action” by the upper chamber.
The move was a pointed one coming from McConnell — who is the most powerful Republican in Congress after McCarthy’s ouster — as the last time the GOP leader appeared on a Sunday show was in April 2022 to talk up U.S. support for Ukraine.
Until the House gets back up and running, it’s the upper chamber that will be leading those supplemental discussions.
“This place needs to open. This chamber here needs to be active. We have the clock ticking on a continuing resolution,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) told reporters last week. “We need to be able to get back to our work. This place needs to be operational.”
The border component of the supplemental request is top of mind.
A group of leading Senate Republicans huddled in Sen. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) office Thursday as they attempt to close the gap on the issue in order to win support from conservatives in the House while simultaneously mollifying the White House and Democrats. The inability to do something good enough for conservatives was the reason why no border items were included in the 45-day stopgap bill.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who has been a lead figure in immigration negotiations over the past year, is taking an active role in talks, serving as a conduit between the White House and Senate Republicans in an effort to strike a deal that includes what they deem to be items that have real operational impact.
Members who took part in the meeting told reporters they want policy provisions included on top of the $14 billion that Biden requested in order to stem future flows of migrants.
“It has to be strong. It has to be real,” Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) said shortly after the sit-down.
Despite the complete dysfunction in the House, the Senate hasn’t exactly been working as a well-oiled machine lately. The chamber took nearly four days last week to pass a resolution saying that it stands with Israel against terrorism.
The Senate also has struggled to restart its own government funding effort. The initial package of three spending bills — known as a “minibus” — struggled throughout last week to strike a deal on an amendment package to help move it along. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top GOP on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters that she is hopeful lawmakers will resume consideration of the first minibus next week.
That struggle to move the Senate’s spending bills along is creating concern that it could back Congress into a corner and force members to pass an omnibus before the end of the year.
“We’re running out of time … I’m really worried,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), an appropriator and a former House member, adding that she is growing increasingly frustrated with the House’s troubles as there is no end in sight.
“Any House member I talk to, they now just shrug their shoulders like they don’t know what’s going on or where the end is,” she added.
Emily Brooks contributed.