(Bloomberg) — Republicans in Congress were hoping to ride into their convention and a lengthy summer break with a burst of productivity under their leadership. But disputes with Democrats over the Zika virus, defense spending and guns threaten to derail that narrative.
A tense Congress will gavel in for a final week ahead of the parties’ presidential nominating conventions. The House is still riven after a contentious 25-hour sit-in by Democrats demanding gun-control votes. On the Senate side, the annual budget process is mired in partisan meltdown after the Democrats blocked the $568.1 billion defense spending bill.
“This is the definition of dysfunction,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, calling Democrats “the dysfunction party” for blocking the Zika measure as well as a defense spending bill they had supported unanimously in committee while seeking a guarantee about the final product.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, retorted that the Zika bill was nothing like what Democrats supported originally. He also tossed in a reference to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
“They are the party of Trump. So don’t call us dysfunctional,” Reid said.
Related: Compromise Inevitable
Democrats’ decision to stop the defense bill is a reflection of just how much trust has broken down between the parties. They say they’re worried that Republicans are planning what amounts to a bait-and-switch routine: claim credit for a bipartisan bill coming out of the Senate, only to later swap in a more partisan final version in a conference with the House.
That’s what happened on the $1.1 billion spending package aimed at addressing the Zika virus, and Democrats vowed not to let that happen again.
The Democratic threat of maximum obstruction stunned McConnell, who has worked hard to create a bipartisan appropriations process this year.
“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 or our efforts to move the appropriations process forward,” McConnell said Thursday.
But barring a change of heart, the demise of the defense bill could effectively kill the annual spending process until after the November elections, with a short-term stopgap measure a certainty in September to keep the government open.
The months-long maneuvering over Zika funding triggered the latest breakdown.
Democrats have been accusing Republicans of dragging their heels on President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion request for emergency spending, first made in February. Leaders eventually compromised and agreed to a $1.1 billion measure negotiated by Democrat Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri.
That package was added to a broader spending bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on May 19, though most Republicans voted against the Zika funding because it would add to the deficit.
In conference with the House on its narrower measure, Republican leaders were faced with a dilemma: assuage conservatives demanding offsetting spending cuts to pay for Zika, or accept the demands of Democrats that the virus be treated like other emergencies over the years — Ebola, flu, hurricanes — and be paid for with additional borrowing.
Senate Republicans ended up negotiating a compromise that included only Republicans, and then began accusing Democrats of blocking Zika funding. Democrats, in turn, blasted Republicans for including several partisan provisions in the new bill, including one that would bar emergency funding for groups like Planned Parenthood.
Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a senior appropriator, said Republicans are willing to negotiate further on Zika, but said they still want to avoid adding to the deficit or funding Planned Parenthood. Cole called the latter a “red line” for the Republican conference.
As for cutting deals with Democrats, “we don’t trust them either,” Cole said. “They’ve tried to politicize it from day one, and it’s unfortunate.”