Omnibus lumbers forward despite potential political pitfalls

Wednesday - 11/30/2011, 11:27am EST

Alexander Bolton, reporter, The Hill

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By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

The Senate is preparing to vote on a bill to fund the federal government for fiscal 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he's going to push an omnibus spending bill instead of another continuing resolution. The current CR expires on Dec. 16.

"His initial plan was to move smaller appropriations packages," said Alexander Bolton of The Hill newspaper about Reid's actions. Bolton joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris Wednesday to discuss Reid's plan and the viability of the omnibus.

"Unfortunately for Reid's plan, the latest minibus ran into a brick wall just before Thanksgiving," Bolton said. "With under three weeks left until the Dec. 16 deadline, Reid has decided to put everything together in an omnibus package that's going to be nearly $1 trillion and try to pass it through the Senate."

Reid attempted to do the same thing in 2010 and came very close to passing the package, but GOP backers withdrew their support at the last moment. According to Bolton, Reid may have a reason to be optimistic that he can succeed this year.

"The federal government has been operating on stopgap measures since last fall," he said. "If the omnibus doesn't pass in December, that means the government's going to have to operate for another year on stopgap measures. The result of that is that Congress can't affect any oversight, can't make any policy changes, can't change any of the ... spending levels because they're not passing any of the spending bills."

Republicans and Democrats, especially on the appropriations committee, are getting tired of that. "That's why they want to pass these appropriations bills, even though they will be piled into a massive omnibus that will surely become a target for conservative critics and tea party critics," Bolton said.

Last week, Congress passed a minibus of $128 billion to fund a handful of government agencies. Congress also approved a continuing resolution to keep government running through Dec. 16. The omnibus, weighing in at about $1 trillion, would fund the agencies not included in the minibus.

"There's some controversy over just what the spending level for fiscal year 2012 should be," Bolton said. "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed to set the cap at $1.043 trillion for fiscal year 2012, but also signed off on adding $11 billion in emergency spending to that total that wouldn't count against the cap. Now he's facing a revolt from some of the tea party freshmen in the House who say that emergency spending should not be added to the cap. Boehner is now trying to back out of that deal and that is not making the Democrats who signed that deal with him very happy." He added that Reid said yesterday that Republicans who think that they can change the law ad hoc are living in a fantasy.

"The omnibus is the only way to get these appropriations bills passed," Bolton said. "And, yes, it will become a political target, and, yes, it will be tough to get it through the House. But, you have to remember, there are members of the appropriations committee, including Republicans, who haven't had much to do for the last year-and-a-half. If this omnibus doesn't go through, then, basically, their work is wasted."

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