WASHINGTON — The top Republicans in the House and Senate don’t agree on how to avert a government shutdown that is looking increasingly likely this weekend.
And if the government shuts down, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear who should get the blame: the Republican-led House.
“The choice facing Congress, pretty straightforward: We can take the standard approach and fund the government for six weeks at the current rate of operations, or we can shut the government down in exchange for zero meaningful progress on policy,” McConnell said Wednesday morning on the floor of his chamber.
“Shutting down the government isn’t an effective way to make a point. Keeping it open is the only way to make a difference on the most important issues we are facing.”
As if he hadn’t been clear enough in his morning remarks, McConnell revisited the topic of the House’s total dysfunction during an afternoon press conference.
“Look, I don’t want to give the speaker any advice about how to run the House,” McConnell said, referring to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “We’re going to concentrate on how to do our job in the Senate, which is to pass a bill that keeps the government open. I can’t have an impact on what happens in the House.”
President Joe Biden chimed in to affirm the minority leader’s take on things.
“You know, I agree with Mitch here,” Biden wrote in a social media post. “Why the House Republicans would want to defund Border Patrol is beyond me.”
Late in the day, McCarthy tried to downplay the divergence between himself and the Senate Republican leader.
“Mitch is not in the majority over there. He’s got to work with Sen. Schumer,” McCarthy said, referring to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The Senate took the first step Tuesday night toward passing a bipartisan bill that would fund the government through Nov. 17, provide money for natural disaster relief and Ukraine’s defense against Russian invaders, and extend some programs that would otherwise be at risk, like the Federal Aviation Administration and food aid for pregnant women.
McCarthy, meanwhile, told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that he would not put the Senate funding resolution up for a vote.
“He said he told McConnell he’s going to fight what the Senate sends over,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told reporters after the meeting.
House Republicans said their plan will be to pass a resolution funding the government at lower levels along with a modified version of a hard-right immigration policy bill that the House passed earlier this year in a symbolic vote.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said the idea is that the House would pass its bill on Friday and then Schumer “gets to decide whether or not he wants to shut down the government or shut down the border.”
One problem with the House Republican plan is that it’s not clear if McCarthy can marshal the votes he would need to pass a partisan funding bill. Republicans have struggled to pass procedural resolutions for funding the military, likely their favorite part of the federal government.
Another glaring point of disagreement is the importance of providing help to Ukraine. President Joe Biden has asked Congress for about $20 billion more in military, economic and humanitarian aid for the embattled country. That would be on top of about $77 billion in aid that’s already been committed.
The Senate bill contains about $6.1 billion in military and economic aid, a lowball figure for some Ukraine advocates but enough to serve as a bridge to a larger amount later.
However, McCarthy on Tuesday night warned that Ukraine would not be a priority in any stopgap bill emerging from the House.
“What Russia has done is wrong,” McCarthy told reporters. But he said helping Ukraine should not be more important than assisting victims of natural disasters at home.
“Why can’t we deal with the border and our emergencies too?” McCarthy asked. (The Senate bill includes $6 billion in disaster relief funding, almost the same amount that would be provided to help Ukraine.)
McConnell has said that defeating Russia in Ukraine one of the most important tasks facing the Western world. Earlier this month, he said cutting and running from Ukraine would have consequences for deterring China from trying to take control of Taiwan.
“If the United States proves we cannot be trusted to back our allies in Europe, why on earth should our allies in Asia expect different treatment in the face of Chinese aggression?” he asked.
Ukraine allies overwhelmingly won two votes on the House floor Wednesday on the issue of aid, potentially undermining McCarthy’s case for keeping such spending out of a House stopgap bill.
An amendment to a defense funding bill that would have stripped $300 million in training assistance for Ukraine was defeated on a 104-330 vote. Similarly, a blanket ban on using defense funds to provide security assistance to Ukraine went down by an even bigger margin, 93 to 339.