McConnell won’t discipline the jerks. He won’t tell them that the debt ceiling and funding the government aren’t just existential issues to, you know, the nation but also to the prospects of the GOP, because forcing government shutdown has always been disaster for them politically. But these aren’t hostages that McConnell’s willing to release. He can use them to gum up the works in the Senate, eating up hours and hours of time that could be otherwise spent passing legislation that might help people. Which is precisely why he plays this game with the likes of Cruz and Lee, and why they play it in return.
In the days before March 11 when this continuing resolution expires, they’ll probably do it all again. That is unless things get sufficiently dicey with Russia and Ukraine to make a breakthrough in the negotiations for a permanent, omnibus spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year, all seven months of it. Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy sounded optimistic on the floor ahead of Thursday’s continuing resolution vote. He said that the “framework” that the House and Senate top appropriators agreed to last week (specific details of which have not been released) would indicate “the biggest increase in nondefense programs in four years.”
His Republican counterpart Richard Shelby of Alabama said “That’s the Democrat agenda,” not disputing Leahy’s assertion. “Our agenda was national security. But, you know, in anything … bipartisan, to try to get a bill through, you’re going to have to give to get.”
The White House is requesting another $30 billion in coronavirus response aid in that omnibus spending bill, including about $18 billion for medical treatments, nearly $5 billion for testing, and $2.7 billion for preparedness for potential future variants. Republicans so far are not receptive, saying that there’s been plenty appropriated already and that all needs to be used up first.
Some of the hardest hit industries would dispute the idea that they’ve been helped enough. The National Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition are lobbying for an additional $48 billion for the fund set up in 2020 to help restaurants. That $28.6 billion ran out last year, shutting out as many as 177,000 restaurants that had applied for assistance.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) the Small Business Committee chair, is working to get that funding in, saying “We’re not going to be asking to come back again for any additional funds; […] This is it.” He indicated that there’s a “tentative” agreement with Republicans to include some additional small business aid in the omnibus spending bill.
Ironically, this last gasp of small business aid will probably get more support from Republicans than the administration’s request for more money to stop the damned pandemic. Because Republicans have decided that letting the pandemic run amok is “freedom” for America, and it’s better to hand out money to businesses—but not schools and local governments—to deal with the aftermath.
The prospects for an omnibus bill to have come together by March 11 really do seem to ride on what happens with Russia and Ukraine in the next two weeks, and whether the Pentagon can lean hard enough on Republicans to provide it the funding certainty it needs. In the meantime, we all get a break from Congress until both the House and Senate return on Feb. 28.
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