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Mccarthy and Mcconnell on Collision Course as Congress Barrels Toward Messy Finish
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News primetime last week. McCarthy told Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham that Republicans should wait until 2023 to reach a year-end spending deal with Democrats.
McCarthy agreed. “Why work on anything if we have the gavel inside Congress?” Senators said McCarthy’s comment surprised McConnell. The House GOP leader had privately indicated, including at a White House meeting, that Ryan would be open to a substantial spending deal to finish this year’s work, but Republicans didn’t anticipate him to attack McConnell even if he officially opposed the proposal.
However, McCarthy progressively opposed McConnell’s big spending arrangement, which cleared McCarthy’s decks for the following Congress. McCarthy told House Republicans, “Hell no,” about the spending proposal hours before McConnell said the arrangement was “broadly appealing” on Tuesday. The only caucus to oppose Tuesday night’s funding accord was House Republicans.
It was the latest disagreement between two GOP leaders who disagreed on many matters this Congress. McConnell overrode McCarthy to pass infrastructure, gun safety, and semiconductor chip development bills. In the previous two months, McCarthy has courted the right wing of his conference to gain the speakership, while McConnell has supported legislation to prevent a statewide railway strike and McCarthy has opposed it.
As McCarthy warned against giving Ukraine a “blank check,” McConnell strongly supported funneling US cash to fight Russian aggression, which drove his push to reach a deal on a financing measure with tens of billions to help Ukraine.
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McCarthy and McConnell are on a collision course as Congress wraps up its work for the year to fund government agencies through next fall, highlighting the dueling political forces in their conferences that the two will have to navigate next year when the GOP assumes power in the House.
“It’s a House-Senate dynamic, and the conference in the House, clearly, a lot of times might be in a different place than the conference in the Senate,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, McConnell’s senior deputy from South Dakota.
Thune replied, “Yeah,” when asked if he knew McConnell was surprised by McCarthy’s Fox News response. “I think he’s reflecting what’s occurring in the House, and he’s, as best I can (tell), trying to make sure he’s representative of the House Republicans.”
“I like Kevin,” McConnell said on CNN. McCarthy, whose office declined to comment, said continuing resolutions to finance the government “are not where we want to be” following the November White House meeting. If Democrats “don’t want to work with us,” the California Republican said, “We can get this work done in January as well.”
The House may pass legislation with a simple majority, while the Senate can be stalled by a single senator and requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. McCarthy will head 222 House Republicans and McConnell a 49-seat Senate minority in the new Congress. McCarthy needs four GOP votes to enact party-line legislation if he becomes a speaker on January 3.
However, the Democratic-led Senate will likely reject most House Republican legislation. To avoid an economic disaster, both chambers of Congress and President Joe Biden must pass important fiscal problems including raising the debt limit and funding the government. Those concerns will challenge the McConnell-McCarthy partnership.
Even though McConnell has long avoided default, the debt limit is set to be crossed next year, and a big debate is brewing to raise it. Senate Republicans want to conclude this year’s funding bill in the last days of the Democratic-controlled Congress to avoid a huge government shutdown fight early next year.
“Everybody’s probably got a motive at the time to reject it,” Alabama Republican and senior GOP appropriator Sen. Richard Shelby said of McCarthy. “They may oppose it philosophically, politically.” McCarthy pointed to Democrats when asked about McConnell’s backing for the spending measure off the House floor on Tuesday.
“My message is to Democrats who want to spend more,” McCarthy said of McConnell. “I wouldn’t add more money after all they compounded and spent, especially last year.” McConnell defended the bill when asked about Republican resistance.
“We’re on defense,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “We’re dealing with our cards.” He said they increased defense expenditures and resisted Democrats’ calls for domestic spending. McConnell said the proposal is “far and away the best we could achieve given the fact that we don’t control the floor or the government.”
Despite voting against the omnibus measure, several Republicans believe McCarthy quietly supports it. McCarthy, like many House Republicans, doesn’t want to deal with a government shutdown shortly after taking power. With a split administration and a razor-thin House majority, an emboldened right fringe is already making border demands, making government funding difficult.
As McCarthy battles to gain support for his speaker’s bid, his right flank is pressuring him to take a harder tone on policy matters, especially the spending plan. Hardliners want to finance the government in the new year when the House GOP will have more power.
“Our best shot is that they clear the decks for us and we raise our hands in protest,” said a senior GOP senator. Even if McCarthy opposes the large spending bill, his critics are upset with the process. “You’ve got Mitch McConnell prepared to roll the House right now on extra billions of dollars in spending,” said Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry, leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Tell me how this changes. I’m curious, but I don’t see anything changing.”
House GOP leadership is officially whipping against the one-week short-term budget patch to extend this Friday’s deadline until December 23, and Republican sources expect leaders to whip against the omnibus bill as well. McConnell may support both bills.
One Republican senator noted that McConnell and McCarthy face distinct conferences and political circumstances, explaining their sometimes contrasting approaches. The participant noted their conferences had various styles and cuisines. Different dynamic. McCarthy struggles for political survival.”
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