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Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Senate gets ready to jam the House on CR

What is that sound you hear? Is it the rustling leaves of the early fall? Is it your kids enjoying D.C.’s temperate weather after the scorching summer?

No, Washington. It’s the sound of the House about to get jammed by the Senate. And even then it’s probably too late to prevent a government shutdown.

House Republicans were cycling between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s offices Thursday, planning out their quixotic quest to pass 11 appropriations bills in the next nine days. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer teed up a bill that could become the vehicle for a bipartisan stopgap funding package designed to keep government open past Sept. 30.

While House Republicans are pointlessly grinding through their version of FY2024 spending bills next week, Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely send the House a bipartisan CR. And yes, it’ll probably include billions of dollars in Ukraine aid as well as disaster relief funding and plenty of provisions that conservatives abhor.

At that point, McCarthy will have a choice to make. Will he bring up the Senate-approved CR and pass it with a mix of Democratic and Republican votes? Will he try to amend it and see if the Senate will bite? (They probably won’t.) Or will he ignore it and shut the government down?

This is a decision that could define McCarthy’s speakership.

It didn’t have to be this way: If House Republicans passed their own CR with border security funding, they would’ve forced a debate with the Senate about the growing migrant crisis in Texas, Arizona and elsewhere around the country — a major political weakness for the Biden administration. And maybe could’ve scored some other policy wins.

But instead, McCarthy’s House Republican Conference rebelled against him, forcing the speaker and his leadership team into a prolonged debate about topline spending for next year. This undercut McCarthy’s preferred message and further weakened his already weak hand with the Senate and the White House.

Some moderate Republicans are also getting annoyed at the influence the right flank is having on the rest of the conference. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who helped craft a bipartisan stopgap proposal with the Problem Solvers Caucus, said McCarthy needs to start working with Democrats.

Bacon took a shot at the House Freedom Caucus, which he referred to as the “dysfunction caucus.”

“Let’s stop chasing our tail with these five to 10 members who are making demands that will never become law,” Bacon told us. “Let’s start working across the aisle and get the best deal we can.”

What’s next: The House Rules Committee has scheduled a markup this afternoon on four spending bills – Homeland Security, State-Foreign Operations, Defense and Agriculture.

This is part of the House GOP leadership’s latest plan to pass 11 appropriations bills through the chamber at $1.52 trillion in total spending, which is tens of billions of dollars lower than what the Senate will accept. Members are still not expected to return to Washington until Tuesday evening, according to GOP leadership aides.

Yet in many ways, a Senate-led process may have always been the inevitable outcome here. Any bill to fund the government must, by definition, be bipartisan, and McCarthy has been unwilling to put a bipartisan funding bill on the floor in order to avoid an open war with his hardline conservatives.

Senate GOP appropriators were largely staying quiet in order to give McCarthy the space to figure out his own internal dynamics. Senate Republicans didn’t want to undermine him. But they were agitating for something — anything — to come out of the House this week.

That isn’t going to happen, so the Senate will take an initial procedural vote Tuesday evening on the House’s FAA reauthorization bill, which will eventually be subbed out for the CR.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has already said he won’t give consent for speedy passage of a bill that includes Ukraine aid. So the Senate will need to burn through a ton of floor time unless there’s some kind of time agreement reached.

When the House and Senate returns on Tuesday, lawmakers will have just five days left to avoid a shutdown.

There’s a lot at stake for hundreds of thousands of federal employees – including military service members – who won’t get paid during a shutdown. We expect OMB to begin communicating with senior officials at federal agencies starting today to remind them to update their shutdown guidance for employees with the deadline just over a week away.

One more thing: We want to give a shoutout to CNN’s Manu Raju, our longtime friend and colleague. Manu is formally taking over as anchor of “Inside Politics Sunday” this weekend. Be sure to tune in.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio, Mica Soellner and John Bresnahan

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.