“I’m not going to turn into the obstruct caucus,” Reid said. “We will do our work, we have a lot of work to do. We are going to proceed.”
Much to the chagrin of the White House and Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans this week rallied around McConnell’s plan to ignore any nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month, by promising to not hold hearings or a vote on the president’s pick.
Reid and other top Democrats are fuming at this decision, describing it as a failure to fulfill a constitutional responsibility, but said any reprisals would come from voters, not Democrats in the Senate.
“Pressure is not going to come by holding up the legislative agenda,” said Senate Democratic Conference Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “We are going to let these bills go forward.”
The decision not to block appropriations bills is a major shift from last year when Democrats refused to allow votes on any spending legislation until Republicans agreed to across the board spending increases. In blocking the legislation, Schumer and Reid helped create a scenario where Republican leaders agreed to spending increases over two years in order to avoid taking responsibility for a repeat of the 2013 government shutdown.
With that deal in hand, Democrats say they plan to cooperate with plans to have an orderly appropriations process this year in a bid to take the high road ahead of the fall elections when they hope to recapture the Senate.
“We’re not obstructionists like they are,” Schumer said.
McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said that moving spending bills through Congress is a major part of his 2016 agenda. He and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) have both vowed move this legislation through regular order, meaning each bill would be considered individually in both chambers.
McConnell has frequently pointed out that no Congress has finished the appropriations process on time since 1994 and doing so this year would prove the effectiveness of a Republican controlled Senate.
Democrats could, of course, decide to change course and make it difficult for McConnell to move spending bills and any individual senator could try to slow the process.
They could still decide to block the spending bills for other reasons, particularly if Republicans decide to attach politics-driven “poison pill” riders. Last year, Democrats fought back against GOP threats to use the spending bills to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and roll back environmental regulations and elements of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she could not predict how the fight over the Supreme Court would impact the upcoming spending bills.
“We’re not sure what other dilatory tactics [Republicans are] going to use but when you only give a president a three-year term, who knows what tricks they’re going to use,” Mikulski said.
House Republicans, meanwhile, continue to struggle to agree on a path forward for the annual budget blueprint — a necessary step that must be completed before the appropriations process can begin.
The same group of approximately 40 hard line conservatives that helped oust former Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) are now threatening to vote against any budget that includes the spending increases he accepted before resigning late last year. Ryan can only afford to lose 28 Republican votes before he has to reach out to Democrats for their support.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) originally planned to vote a budget out of committee this week, but that plan has been delayed. He has been working for weeks with Ryan and other House leaders to devise a solution that would appease conservatives while sticking to the two-year budget agreement.
Price is expected to present details of a budget blueprint to rank-and-file House Republicans on Wednesday at a weekly GOP conference meeting, according to House GOP aides. The proposal is expected to include some immediate savings from mandatory spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as a way to placate conservatives concerned about spending increases in the annual spending bills.
Aides declined to provide specific details about Price’s budget.
“This proposal enjoys the overwhelming support of the committee members, and the chairman looks forward to sharing it with the broader conference as we continue moving this process forward,” said Budget Committee spokesman Ryan Murphy.