Battles over government spending levels, the impeachment of President Biden, aid to Ukraine and border security will be at the forefront for Congress as the Senate returns to work on Tuesday, with lawmakers aiming for a short-term funding measure to avoid a partial government shutdown.
There are less than four weeks before the Sept. 30 deadline for lawmakers to agree on a stopgap spending measure, while work proceeds more slowly on funding the government for the next fiscal year.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said in a letter to fellow Senate Democrats that the top priority for the upper chamber is avoiding a shutdown.
“Our focus will be on funding the government and preventing House Republican extremists from forcing a government shutdown,” Mr. Schumer said.
Tangled in the spending fight is a potential House vote on opening an impeachment inquiry of Mr. Biden, involving slow-moving probes of his family’s financial dealings. Some House Republicans say the president should face impeachment over evidence of his involvement in a family influence-peddling scheme dating to his time as vice president, and for his failure to cooperate with investigators.
There has been no direct evidence so far to show that Mr. Biden profited from business deals involving his son Hunter.
SEE ALSO: Rep. Claudia Tenney urges GOP holdouts to get on board with Biden impeachment inquiry
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said last week that an impeachment inquiry will only move forward if there is a formal House vote. In 2019, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unilaterally announced an impeachment probe of then-President Trump over his handling of Ukraine, without a full vote by the House.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, has said she will vote against any government funding unless the House votes to open an impeachment inquiry of the president. The White House responded to Ms. Greene by warning that the House GOP shouldn’t allow the “hardcore fringe of their party” to force a government shutdown.
Rep. Claudia Tenney, New York Republican, said the House needs “to go into impeachment right now,” despite reluctance by some Republicans in swing districts. She said Congress should be able to multi-task on spending and impeachment when it returns from recess.
“We have to do it all,” Ms. Tenney said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.” “These are tough times and they call for tough measures.”
In a private conference call last week, Mr. McCarthy urged House Republicans to back a short-term spending deal to avoid a partial shutdown and instead focus on the larger funding fight later in the fall, sources on the call told CNN. He said the yearlong spending bills to fund federal agencies are a better battleground for the GOP to secure cuts and policy changes they want, such as border security and Pentagon policy.
Both Mr. Schumer and Mr. McCarthy have discussed the need for a stopgap spending measure that would fund the government at fiscal 2023 levels, likely into November, until lawmakers can finish work on the slate of 12 longer-term spending measures. If Congress doesn’t agree on new funding levels by Jan. 1, automatic spending cuts of 1% would go into effect.
Mr. Schumer has warned Mr. McCarthy to not cater to demands from the influential House Freedom Caucus, asserting that any short-term spending bill must be bipartisan.
“The only way to avoid a shutdown is through bipartisanship, so I have urged House Republican leadership to follow the Senate’s lead and pass bipartisan appropriations bills,” Mr. Schumer said.
House Freedom Caucus lawmakers have given Mr. McCarthy a slate of ultimatums to earn their support for the short-term continuing resolution. The more than 40-member caucus has rebuked the prospect of a “clean” short-term spending measure, which would keep current spending levels and reject any policy riders.
Instead, House conservatives want a measure that includes the Secure the Border Act, addresses what the caucus sees as the weaponization of the Justice Department, and legislation that guts woke Pentagon policies.
The conservative lawmakers have also said they do not fear a government shutdown, and view their demands as a way to break the status quo of Washington. But House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Republican, told The Washington Times that the caucus is open to compromise on their requests.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is showing some acceptance for Mr. Schumer’s approach. Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said that while a short-term measure is likely, lower spending levels advocated by House Republicans would not be “replicated in the Senate.”
“Honestly, it’s a pretty big mess,” Mr. McConnell said last week. And there are fresh questions about Mr. McConnell’s health, after he froze up for the second time at a news conference last week, possibly from the lingering effects of a concussion.
Mr. McConnell was referring to spending levels agreed upon by Mr. McCarthy and President Biden in the debt-ceiling deal, which House Republicans have largely ignored in favor of reducing spending below the agreed-upon caps.
The White House is urging lawmakers to pass a short-term spending measure at current funding levels to avoid a shutdown.
An official from the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement that it was clear a short-term measure “will be needed next month,” adding that the administration is working with Congress to provide “technical assistance needed to avoid severe disruptions to government services.”
Further complicating matters is President Biden’s request for $44 billion in emergency spending, which includes $24 billion for Ukraine — $13 billion of it in military aid for the war against Russia. The president also requested an additional $4 billion on Friday for increased disaster relief funding on top of his earlier bid for $40 billion.
The request is expected to be attached to a short-term resolution, but House Republicans have vehemently opposed any more spending in Ukraine.
Tying Ukraine spending with disaster relief could spell trouble for Mr. Schumer’s agenda. Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, has demanded an immediate vote on his legislation that would inject $12.5 billion into FEMA’s disaster relief fund to aid Florida, California and Hawaii.
Mr. Scott has urged the Biden administration to decouple the disaster funding built into the president’s request from Ukraine spending.
Mr. Schumer has a full plate heading the Senate’s first week back in Washington. His first move is putting the onus of a government shutdown squarely on the shoulders of House Republicans.
“We cannot afford the brinkmanship or hostage-taking we saw from House Republicans earlier this year when they pushed our country to the brink of default to appease the most extreme members of their party,” he said, referring to the partisan feud in late spring that resulted in the agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The House advanced a bill to fund military construction and the Veterans Administration before punting the other 11 measures until after the August recess. Adding to the time crunch is the fact that House lawmakers do not return to Washington until the second week of September.
Also still simmering in the Senate is the blockade by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican, of senior military promotions. His objections are based on changing the Pentagon’s policy on abortion, and there is no end in sight for breaking the impasse.
A majority of voters want Congress to avoid careening the government into a partial shutdown, according to a new poll from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
The survey, based on data from Democratic and Republican opinion firms, found that 90% of voters want lawmakers to work together to prevent a shutdown and to turn their focus on the national debt.
The Senate has advanced all of its spending measures through committee, but has not had a floor vote on any of the dozen bills. Mr. Schumer hopes to move at least some of the spending measures to the floor by mid-September.
He has lauded efforts led by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, and Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, as “strongly bipartisan” in advancing the spending measures through committee.
• Ramsey Touchberry contributed to this report.