WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats sidetracked a $575 billion defense bill for next year late Thursday and threatened to shut down Congress’ work on spending legislation, accusing Republicans of shortchanging domestic programs. The move prompted the leaders of each party to testily accuse the other side of dysfunction.
Both parties support the defense measure itself. But Democrats fear that if it is completed and sent to President Barack Obama, they would lose leverage with the GOP for future spending measures financing health, public works, law enforcement and other domestic programs.
The Senate voted 50-44 — 10 votes short of the 60 needed — to head off a Democratic filibuster that effectively stalls the defense measure.
As Democrats made their intentions clear, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they should be renamed “the dysfunction party” and warned that this is a dangerous period to block money for the Pentagon.
“At a time when we face an array of terror threats around the globe, we cannot afford to put politics above support for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” said McConnell, R-Ky.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid fired back, saying, “They’re the party of Trump, so don’t call us dysfunctional,” referring to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose controversial statements have divided Republicans.
Reid and other top Democrats sent McConnell a letter earlier Thursday, saying Republicans were breaking a budget pact reached last year by not providing comparable funding for defense and domestic programs and inserting controversial provisions into spending legislation. They said Republicans had inserted extra money into defense bills but rejected Democratic efforts to provide additional funds for infrastructure projects, scientific research and to combat the Zika virus.
The Democrats wrote that they would block Senate work on upcoming spending bills “without strong, public assurance that you are committed to honoring the core tenets” of the budget agreement, “including fair funding, parity and a rejection of poison pill” language.
McConnell said the amount of money in the defense bill did comport to last year’s budget pact. He noted that Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee had recently joined Republicans in unanimously approving the defense measure.
“There’s no excuse to filibuster this bill,” he said.