Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he sees Democratic efforts to block a defense spending bill as evidence that the minority remains “wedded” to the dysfunction that ground the Senate to a partisan halt in recent years.
Democratic senators said Thursday they would block the defense appropriations measure from reaching the floor this month unless Republicans agree to lift caps on government spending not related to defense. In an interview with Morning Consult, McConnell said that move shows Democrats are relying on delay tactics.
“The current behavior, threatening to deny funds for veterans and for our troops overseas in a kind of childish pique because they want to spend more on agencies like the IRS and the EPA, underscores once again what the source of the dysfunction was,” McConnell said. “And they’d like to continue it.”
McConnell said he isn’t certain Democrats will follow through on their threat to block the bill. Some Democratic senators worry that Republicans could use the delay to portray Democrats as blocking a measure that would benefit troops.
“We’ll see whether at the end of the NDAA they really want to kill the bill. I think that will be an important statement of how they want to continue dysfunction, and how their priorities simply don’t square up with the current challenges that we have,” McConnell said.
McConnell pointed out that Democrats have the ultimate trump card in their hand: A president at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House has urged Senate Democrats to keep the National Defense Authorization Act off the floor. On Tuesday, the administration reissued a threat to veto the defense spending bill, too.
Senate Democrats have “got an important backstop anyway. If the president agrees with them, at the end of the day he’s the guy with the pen,” McConnell said. “They’ve probably got a pretty good way of impacting the final product through a president who I assume is sympathetic to most of what they’re doing, if not maybe their tactics.”
Democrats criticized McConnell’s push to bring the NDAA measure and spending bills to the floor that have little chance of passing. The White House has threatened to veto every spending bill passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives.
McConnell “made a poor choice in deciding to waste the Senate’s time on spending bills that have no chance of becoming law,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “He’s the nation’s leading innovator when it comes to obstruction. It may look a little different in the majority but the effect is still the same.”
The Senate on Thursday voted on three amendments to the NDAA, one more than Democrats allowed on the 2013 and 2014 versions of the bill combined — a fact McConnell brought up twice.
“I think they’re so wedded to the dysfunction that they’re having a hard time breaking out of it even when we’re giving them an opportunity to have their say,” he said.