Omnibus approach likely for remaining spending bills

Monday - 11/21/2011, 6:24am EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Despite the successful passage last week of a small group of annual spending bills covering several federal agencies' 2012 budgets, Congress will likely fold the remaining bills into a single omnibus.

The Hill newspaper reports the "minibus" approach — the bundling of just a few spending bills, instead of all of them — appears to have fallen by the wayside in part due to House-Senate differences in strategy.

The House prefers the huge, single spending bills that have been a hallmark of the budget process of the past few years.

The Senate still prefers the piece-by-piece approach because it extends the debate and makes it easier to add amendments.

Both chambers must approve 12 government spending bills each year, known as appropriations. In recent years, though, Congress has been unable to complete the full budget process in time for the start of the fiscal in October.

In place of a full budget, Congress — usually at the last minute — combines all 12 bills into a single omnibus continuing resolution.

However, this year was different.

For weeks after the fiscal year began Oct. 1, Congress worked on a smaller chunk of the appropriations bills — what quickly became known as a minibus spending bill.

Those efforts culminated Thursday in the passage of a minibus covering spending bills for Agriculture; Commerce, Justice and science agencies; and the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

The $182 billion spending bill was a rare moment of bipartisan action for the Congress.

However, as the clock already begins ticking on the current CR — which expires Dec. 16 — Congress is poised to return to the old way of doing business, according to The Hill.

"The path forward for the rest of the (spending) bills is not at all clear," Erik Wasson, a Hill reporter, told Federal News Radio last week.

The Senate attempted a second minibus — containing Energy and Water, State and Foreign Operations, and Financial Services — but it quickly stalled on the Senate floor, he said.

And the minibus approach might never have worked for the more complicated and politically contentious areas, such as the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

One possible — and likely fix — is to tack an omnibus spending bill onto the 2012 Defense appropriations bill. Defense spending is seen as a "must-pass" bill, Wasson told Federal News Radio last week, and few lawmakers want to be seen voting against it.

The House and the Senate will likely resume work on 2012 spending bills after Thanksgiving.

Follow Jack on Twitter at @jmoore_WFED.

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