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Poised to make gains in the November elections, Senate Republicans may have little incentive to cooperate on spending bills once they reach the floor. That’s because they may get a better deal in the lame duck, which could raise the likelihood for a continuing resolution to start fiscal 2015.
The GOP is within striking distance of netting the six seats needed to gain control of the Senate in November. But even picking up only a few more seats may strengthen the GOP’s hand in debates over appropriations bills.
Senate GOP leaders have given no indication that they would consider slowing or blocking any of the 12 annual spending bills once the measures reach the floor this summer. However, punting some of those bills until a lame-duck session — and passing a stopgap measure in the meantime — could leave Republicans better positioned to strike deals that reflect more of their priorities after the elections.
That could be especially critical for program funding levels and the high-stakes policy riders in politically contentious spending bills such as Financial Services, Interior-Environment and Labor-HHS-Education.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., ranking member of Senate Appropriations, said there’s “always an argument” to wait until after the elections in order to get a better deal on pending legislation, but cautioned against relying on that approach.
“You never know what’s going to happen in November,” he said.
Many Senate Republicans said it would send a stronger message to voters if lawmakers debated and passed fiscal 2015 spending measures on time and didn’t have to rely on a continuing resolution to fund government operations at the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
“I would play the long game,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. “If we embrace normal order that would probably help us later, because what are we going to do if we get in charge? Are we going to not pass appropriations bills or have a budget? If we do what [Senate Democrats]have done, what good are we?”
James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., who voted against the January omnibus (PL 113-76), said “now’s the time to be responsible” on appropriations bills.
“We have not had the regular order that normally we do, where we can use the system, present the case, go through the authorization and I think it’s an opportunity to try and reform the thing,” he said.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski has said she wants Congress to clear all appropriations bills before the elections. In the meantime, the Maryland Democrat has set an aggressive schedule, with plans to hold the first full-committee markup by May 22.