The Senate`s bipartisan approach to government funding is putting pressure on a divided House
By STEPHEN GROVES
WASHINGTON (AP) __ On one side of the Capitol, two senators have steered the debate over government funding mostly clear of partisan fights, creating a path for bills to pass with bipartisan momentum.
Steps away, on the House side of the building, things couldn't be more different.
House Republicans, trying to win support from the far-right wing of the party, have loaded up their government funding packages with spending cuts and conservative policy priorities. Democrats have responded with ire, branding their GOP counterparts as extreme and bigoted, and are withdrawing support for the legislation.
The contrary approaches are not unusual for such fights in Congress. But the differences are especially stark this time, creating a gulf between the chambers that could prove difficult to bridge. The dynamic threatens to plunge the United States into yet another damaging government shutdown, potentially as soon as the end of September when last year`s funding expires.
Leaders in both chambers are trying to project strength as they enter negotiations that will determine the fate of billions of dollars in government programs, military aid for Ukraine and emergency disaster recovery funds.
The Senate strategy is being led by the first female duo to hold the top leadership spots on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sens. Patty Murray, D- Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The two have worked for months to pull off a feat not seen in Congress in five years, crafting 12 separate funding bills through the so-called regular order process, which involves crafting legislation in open committee hearings. The goal is to avoid an outcome that rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties loathe: being forced to fund the government at year`s end with a sprawling omnibus package, nearly sight unseen, after it emerges from closed-door negotiations.
"I heard from many members at the end of last year, Republicans and Democrats, that they don't want this dysfunction," Murray told The Associated Press. "They want the appropriations bill not to be some big conglomerate at the end of the year that nobody knows what's in it."
As Murray took the helm of the committee earlier this year, she and Collins began to build on their decades-old working relationship. Murray also met with the top Democrats and Republicans on each subcommittee and urged them to shield funding legislation from "poison pill" policy riders that would drive away the members of one party or the other.
Their effort was at first met with skepticism, Murray said. But as the Senate grinds toward votes on their funding bills, they have won plaudits from leadership in both parties.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the appropriations work "a shining example of how things should work in Washington." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been supportive as well, saying Murray and Collins "have taken us in the right direction."
Collins said she has urged her Republican colleagues, who are in the minority, to "understand that if they really believe in regular order, we need to proceed with these bills and start the amendment process and conclude the bills and send them on their way to the House."
So far, Senate appropriations bills have made it out of the committee on large bipartisan votes, and the Senate this past week took a step toward a final vote on the first package of three spending bills with a 91-7 vote.
Thanks to the filibuster that forces a 60-vote threshold for passage of most legislation, the Senate has no choice but to work on a bipartisan basis when it comes to most major legislation. But the chamber is hardly immune to political brinkmanship.
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2023
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