Senate debating next steps on appropriations front after passing minibus

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The U.S. Capitol Dome is reflected in a rain puddle on the compass star on the east side of the building, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Congress will return this week to continue debating a temporary funding bill to keep the government open and running. (AP Photo/J. David Ake) J. David Ake/AP

Senate debating next steps on appropriations front after passing minibus

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The Senate is organizing what will be its next set of government spending bills after passing its first minibus last week.

The House and Senate have less than two weeks to pass their 12 respective appropriations bills and deliver them to the conference committee, where legislation is sent to sort out differences. Should lawmakers miss that deadline, the government will run out of money and shut down.


The two have been inching toward a showdown over federal spending levels, with each chamber writing their versions of the appropriations bills with different caps.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who lead the Senate Appropriations Committee, wrote their bills using spending levels agreed upon as part of President Joe Biden and then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) deal to avert a debt default in May.

As part of his larger effort to keep the right flank of his conference from ousting him as speaker, McCarthy permitted the House Appropriations Committee to write their spending bills with caps set below the agreed-upon numbers. The effort failed, and McCarthy’s early October ouster left the House paralyzed for three weeks as the GOP conference rallied around a leader.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) eventually secured the gavel late last month, and the chamber’s Republican appropriators went back to passing their partisan spending bills without Democratic support.

The House has thus far passed seven of its 12 bills, while the Senate has only passed three. Still, the Senate-led bills passed through committee on a bipartisan basis, meaning that the legislation will have a shot of making it through both chambers. The House bills, if all are passed and sent to conference as currently written, do not.

The Senate passed its first trio of bills last Wednesday following the monthslong effort to get it across the finish line. Senate leadership spent much of October negotiating to overcome about 70 holds on the bills, passed together as a minibus, which later went through dozens of votes on the bill’s 41 amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) now faces pressure from both sides of the aisle to move on another set of appropriations bills in order to keep pace with the House.

Members are currently debating how many bills to package together for this next round, and progress won’t be made on the appropriations front until this gets resolved.

Several members have proposed a “maxibus,” which would combine the remaining nine appropriations bills into one piece of legislation. Asked about this on Monday evening, Collins said that she would prefer to pass the bills three at a time but expressed willingness to follow what leadership decided.

“If there’s a decision made by the leaders to put all nine of the remaining bills together, at least they’re bills that have gone through committee, been vetted, will be subject to amendment, are not drafted by just a few people behind closed doors,” Collins told reporters. “It’s certainly an improvement, but I would prefer that we continue with the original plan, which was to have four minibuses.”

Johnson said on Sunday that his conference was working “in good faith” to pass all of his chamber’s appropriations bills by the Nov. 17 deadline. He has not yet said what his plan is for passing the bill negotiated in conference through the House.


Asked about Johnson’s ability and willingness to send bipartisan legislation to the Senate, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) told reporters on Wednesday that the new House speaker is trying to keep his conference together “in order to get things through.”

“If you get something that doesn’t mesh with what the Senate wants, it’s because he can’t get it through the House in the form that the Senate wants,” Lummis said after a Senate GOP luncheon with Johnson. “I think we have to be very aware of the fact that he has his finger on the pulse of his caucus and that he’s going to do his darnedest to get legislation passed the House so we can consider it as soon as possible.”

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