WASHINGTON ― Key Senate Democrats signaled Monday their caucus is likely to filibuster a proposed 2020 defense spending bill, which Senate Republican leaders plan to offer for a vote this week.
In a Senate floor speech Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dared Democrats to hold up the bill, accusing them of blocking a troop pay raise “for the sake of picking a fight with the White House," even after the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Imagine the spectacle if the same Senate Democrats who give lengthy speeches criticizing the administration’s actions in Syria block the funding that our commanders need to keep up the missions,” McConnell said. “Imagine the embarrassment if Senate Democrats filibuster funding for our men and women in uniform just days after this past weekend’s heroics.
“Imagine the supreme irony if the same Democrats who want to impeach the president for supposedly delaying military assistance for Ukraine literally themselves delay military assistance for Ukraine by blocking the funding legislation.”
The action promises a repeat of when, in September, Democrats voted against closing a debate on the defense spending bill, and Republican leadership used similar messaging — that Democrats are playing politics with needed resources for U.S. troops.
Bipartisan spending negotiations to reconcile competing spending allocations, called 302(b), for long-delayed 2020 appropriations bills stretched over the weekend and into Monday. Democrats have been unhappy with the Republican-led Senate’s proposed allocations, saying they shortchange spending on labor, health and human services, and education, among other areas, to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats said they still need to reach agreements with Republicans on the allocations, the sequencing of the votes on the remaining appropriations bills, what provisions constitute deal-killing poison pills and how floor amendments will be offered.
Asked if, without those agreements, Democrats would vote against closing a debate on the Senate’s defense spending bill, Sen. Richard Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee’s top Democrat, said: “Of course.”
Asked to respond to McConnell’s accusation that Democrats are acting hypocritical, Durbin said: “Everybody has their version of events, and our version is this president had months to reach an agreement on the current fiscal year, and he’s too busy to do it. He’s too busy making phone calls.”
The Senate has not yet passed any spending bills, while the House has passed 10 of 12 spending bills, including its defense appropriations bill.
This week, Senate Republicans plan to advance an appropriations package that includes measures for the Appropriations subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.
However, with talks dragging and the likelihood that impeachment proceedings against Trump will dominate congressional business, lawmakers acknowledged they will likely need a stopgap spending measure that extends after the last funding patch expires Nov. 21, to avoid a government shutdown.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.