Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued an unusual declaration early last month regarding the biggest congressional issue of the year: “There is no solution in the Senate.”

Having served more than 37 years in the chamber — the last 16-plus as the GOP leader who negotiated too many deals to count — McConnell reiterated what he had been saying for months about legislation to lift the federal borrowing limit and set up a budget outline for the next two years.

The Senate Republicans would give all bargaining power entirely to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had never negotiated such a grand compromise and whose conference has values that are far different from McConnell’s, particularly on national security.

Whatever McCarthy and President Biden agreed to do, McConnell said again and again, Senate Republicans would support.

When they finally saw McCarthy’s handiwork, Senate Republicans were shocked.

“To my House colleagues, I can’t believe you did this,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), fresh off a trip to Ukraine, bellowed Thursday.

Graham joined a group of the Senate GOP wing that favors more military spending in floor speeches denouncing the deal because McCarthy accepted Biden’s budget number for next year in Pentagon funding, which they view as entirely insufficient, given the ongoing effort to support Ukraine’s war against Russia.

Not only that, McCarthy included a complicated provision written by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian who opposes funding Ukraine’s defense, that would force a 1 percent, across-the-board cut to every agency if Congress has not approved all 12 of the annual bills that fund the federal government by New Year’s Day.

The money for nondefense agencies under the Massie provision might be a touch more than the deal negotiated by McCarthy. It would result in real cuts to Pentagon funds when the plan was to boost its accounts by $28 billion. Senate Republicans panicked when they saw that, believing liberal Democrats might impede the appropriations process so that Massie’s language would kick in and give a better ratio of funding to nondefense agencies.

“If you look at the details of the agreement, there is an argument for saying that the sequestration impact, the numbers that we’re dealing with, are not quite right,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told reporters Thursday, using the nomenclature for forced funding cuts. “There would seem to be an incentive to allow sequestration.”

By then it was too late. The House, in an unusually strong bipartisan show of support, approved the must-pass legislation on Wednesday and left town.

In a reversal of the usual fortunes of Capitol Hill negotiations, the lower chamber sent the Senate a take-it-or-default-on-the-debt scenario.

Did Senate Republicans regret outsourcing the negotiations to McCarthy?

“I probably better not comment on that,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP leader in the chamber and a big supporter of the Pentagon, told reporters Thursday.

“Do I regret that decision? That wasn’t my decision,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

Indeed, Collins was one of just six Republicans to not sign a letter that effectively told Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that McCarthy had their proxy and they were united “behind the House Republican” position in the talks.

To his credit, McConnell stuck to his word and immediately embraced the Biden-McCarthy deal, repeatedly praising it. He rounded up enough GOP votes to overcome a filibuster attempt from his own ranks.

“Nobody gets everything they want,” he said during a floor speech on Wednesday. “But in this case, it means the American people got a whole lot more progress toward fiscal sanity than Washington Democrats wanted to give them.”

McConnell made several similar moves in 2019 and 2020, when he deferred to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as they negotiated a debt-ceiling-and-budget deal, a new North American trade deal and an early coronavirus pandemic response measure.

Each time, Senate Republicans expressed outrage after Pelosi, a negotiating legend, won major concessions from Mnuchin, an investment banker and Hollywood producer with no prior experience in government.

This time, with a Democratic president and a Republican speaker, Senate Republicans ended up with the same bitter taste.

Some GOP defense hawks were flummoxed by how McCarthy, whom they consider one of their own, could settle for this deal.

“Unfortunately, this bill poses a mortal risk to our national security by cutting our defense budget, which I cannot support as grave dangers gather on the horizon,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a speech Thursday.

It’s almost as if the Senate GOP had not been paying attention to how the House Republican conference has morphed away from the traditional forceful global posture, embodied by Ronald Reagan, and has instead embraced the America-first vision of Donald Trump.

When Russia invaded in early 2022, Massie was a lone voice of GOP dissent against spending billions of dollars to support Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. A few months later, more than 50 House Republicans opposed legislation bolstering Ukraine.

The most vocal far-right Republicans in the House have made their opposition to funding the war clear, among them staunch McCarthy allies such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and several of his biggest antagonists, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

Other House Republicans, including those who hold traditional national security views, are privately dreading the expected vote later this year to provide more funding, because Trump and conservative personalities such as Tucker Carlson have stoked an anti-Zelensky sentiment among conservative Republicans who vote in primaries.

McCarthy himself has dealt with the issue delicately. He vowed late last year to oppose a “blank check” for the war, then tried to revise those remarks in subsequent media appearances. It always felt a bit like he was signaling to the far right that he understood its views.

While dozens of other lawmakers have visited Kyiv and posed for photos with the Ukrainian leader, McCarthy still hasn’t. His most forceful pledge of support for Ukraine came during a trip to Israel, when a Russian reporter asked a question presuming the speaker did not support Zelensky.

So, as negotiations began a couple of weeks ago, McCarthy did not have the same protect-the-Pentagon ethos as the vast majority of Senate Republicans. He appointed two Republicans without national security credentials — Reps. Garret Graves (La.), an expert on energy production, and Patrick T. McHenry (N.C.), the chairman of the Financial Services Committee — as his top negotiators.

Their main goal was to reduce spending as much as possible, so while some Republicans wanted a major increase in the Pentagon budget, they settled for a 3 percent boost as Biden proposed for 2024 and a measly 1 percent boost in 2025, not even keeping up with inflation.

Graves and McHenry negotiated some actual cuts to domestic agencies, but with a few accounting measures, nondefense funding will be mostly flat. Massie provided the key swing vote to get the overall legislation out of the Rules Committee and on to the full House, so including his measure probably clinched the deal for McCarthy.

The Senate GOP, where fewer than a handful of members hold nativist views on foreign policy, blew its collective stack. “At this point, we are very relevant,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters.

Ultimately, however, they were not. Republicans stalled Senate action for a few hours so they could offer a bunch of amendments, including one from Cotton to change the Massie provision.

It failed on a party-line vote, just as every other amendment failed. Schumer and McConnell issued a tepid statement that said the Senate would push for more Pentagon funding later this year, and the legislation then passed.

Three of the four congressional caucuses solidly supported the compromise: 68 percent of House Republicans, 78 percent of House Democrats and 90 percent of Senate Democrats.

Just 17 Senate Republicans supported the bill, and 31 opposed it, a bitter ending to a negotiation that they wanted no part of because they put their faith entirely in McCarthy’s hands.

“We said that. We did say that,” Thune said, shaking his head a couple of hours before he grudgingly voted yes.

“Nobody’s ever happy around here,” Cornyn said. “Not everybody, anyway. Some people are.”

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