Tuesdays With Mitch: The Step-By-Step Demise of McConnell’s `Regular Order’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is well known for keeping his weekly comments to the press to short usually scripted, sound bites, delivered while surrounded by a wall of Republican lieutenants. But those remarks, delivered on Tuesdays after Republicans first huddle behind closed doors to discuss strategy, often still provide clues for evaluating how far McConnell can push a particular plan of action.

Take appropriations, the bills that fund the federal government. McConnell announced early on he was determined to return the Senate to ``regular order” and use budget numbers agreed to late last year as a guide for 12 individual spending bills. McConnell started Tuesdays last winter on a bullish note, predicting he would bring all 12 bills to the floor over the spring and summer. By the time senators left town July 15 with none of the bills enacted into law, McConnell declined to predict how the Senate will prevent a funding lapse on Sept. 30. For those wondering how we got here, McConnell’s comments serve as a quick primer on this year’s appropriations process – and offer hints about where it is going in the fall.Mitch McConnell

Tues., March 8: McConnell says he is pleased Democrats wrote him a letter saying they wanted a ``regular appropriations process.”

``As you know, I've said that repeatedly,” McConnell says. ``It's our goal to turn to appropriation bills close to a month earlier than have ever been done in the Senate, or at least in everybody's memory. And to try to move as many bills across the floor as we can individually. And I'm glad to see this new sort of cooperative attitude about it … I'm prepared to allocate a lot of floor time to give us a chance to do something that hadn't been done since 1994.”

Tues., March 15: McConnell says he is prepared to bring bills to the floor that reflect the $1.07 trillion discretionary spending cap set in last fall’s bipartisan budget deal – despite efforts by House conservatives to cut that number by at least $30 billion.

``The Senate is committed to taking them up,” McConnell says. ``I intend to spend up to 12 weeks processing individual appropriations bills. We’re going to make every effort we can to get back to some kind of semblance of normalcy in the business of funding the government which we’re supposed to do under the law each year.”

Tues., April 19: McConnell is ready to call up the first spending bill – Energy and Water – that enjoys bipartisan support.

``This will be almost a month earlier than any appropriation has come up in the Senate in modern times,” McConnell says. ``As I've said before, we're going to spend up to 12 weeks processing appropriation bills here in the Senate and hope that we can get past this period we've been in almost continuously for the last 20 years of not being able to wrap up our appropriations work without some kind of omnibus.”

Tues., May 10: McConnell predicts that the Senate will finally pass the Energy and Water bill after three weeks of floor debate. He attacks Democrats for criticizing Republican strategies.

``And then we're going to go to two more bills,” McConnell says. ``And then we're going to do the defense authorization bill and we're going to bring up the defense appropriation bill and we're going to devote a lot of time to this. And their slogan, I gather, is ‘Do your job.’ I would say to them, ‘Do your job.’ Do your job’’ – the basic work of the Senate and the Congress and the House is to pass the funding bills. That's what we're going to be doing here from now until July 15th.”

Tues, May 17: McConnell ``bundles” the Transportation spending bill and the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, with Democrats’ support, and both sides agree to McConnell’s plan to also use the new ``minibus” as a vehicle for $1.1 billion in Zika funds. After that, McConnell says he wants to quickly pass the Defense authorization and spending bills.

``We're going to finish those two bills this week,” McConnell says. ``And then next week, we're going to go to the defense authorization bill and finish that before Memorial Day.”

Tues, May 24: McConnell diverts from appropriations to take up the Pentagon authorization bill and promptly encounters a long list of demands for amendments from both sides of the aisle. The schedule slips into June.

``We will grind our way through the [defense bill],” McConnell says. ``We will go back to appropriations and continue to pass appropriation bill after appropriation bill for the most part, up until we break on July 15th.”

Tues., June 14: The Senate finishes the defense authorization, but pivots away from the Defense appropriations bill. Instead, McConnell puts the Senate on a path to take up the Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill that funds the FBI – three days before the Orlando mass shooting.

``[W]e're going to continue down the road of dealing with these national security and terrorism issues,” McConnell says.

Tues, June 21: Work on C-J-S bogs down as senators from both parties call for changes to change a provision in the law that allows terror suspects to buy guns. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduces a bipartisan compromise and GOP leaders fail in their effort to table it. McConnell insists Collins’ amendment will get a vote, but he soon shelves CJS to move to Defense appropriations.

``What I'd say is we're going to give her an opportunity to have a vote on that and see if that's something people want to support,” McConnell says.

Tues., June 28: Partisan tensions again are on display as Senate Democrats oppose the Milcon-VA bill carrying Zika funds when it comes back from a House-Senate conference committee with ``poison pill” add-ons, such as language to withhold resources for Planned Parenthood and allow the display of the Confederal flag on federal lands.

``A conference report is not amendable,” McConnell says. `` I would say to my Democratic friends, there are some disadvantages to not being in the majority. You don't get everything exactly the way you want. This is why we enjoy being in the majority more than the minority.”

Tues., July 6: Democrats say they are wary after the Milcon-VA/Zika episode and won’t support moving on to Defense appropriations unless McConnell promises to honor the budget act. McConnell declines to make such a promise or explain how he is going to get more spending bills passed by the recess.

``We’ve had a bit of a challenge trying to get appropriations bills across the floor,” McConnell says. ``I might say, it hasn't been for lack of floor time. We've given a lot of floor time to try to get the appropriations process back to normal. The bad news it's been hard to do that. The good news is all the bills have now been reported out of committee. Figuring out how to get them across the floor is a challenge, and I'll let you know how we're going to go forward with that.” 

Tuesday, July 12: McConnell declines to discuss the next steps as the Republican convention and seven-week recess near, including what type of stopgap he favors to prevent a funding lapse in September, and blames Democrats for the demise of the process.

``Once again we are subjected to a road block against even taking up the Defense Appropriations bill,” McConnell says. ``The have succeeded now in disrupting the process, thereby guaranteeing once again we end up with some indeterminate way of finishing the funding in a way that balls up the process.” 

The Senate returns to work Tuesday, Sept. 6. After that, there will be only three Tuesdays remaining before current government funding expires.