Short-term bill more likely before Friday budget deadline

Wednesday - 12/14/2011, 9:00am EST

Erik Wasson, staff writer for The Hill

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By Jolie Lee
@jleewfed
Federal News Radio

With less than three days to reach a budget deal, lawmakers are more likely now to pass a short-term spending measure rather than a $1 trillion omnibus bill for the rest of the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.

This fiscal year, Congress has passed only three of the 12 appropriations bills. Lawmakers have been hashing out details of a catch-all omnibus bill for the remaining nine.

However, the current continuing resolution expires Friday, and The Hill reports, "Brinkmanship on both sides of Capitol Hill is holding up work on the spending bills."

A government shutdown is an unlikely scenario. Erik Wasson, staff writer for The Hill, writes, "President Obama and leaders of the House and Senate have lurched toward shutdowns repeatedly this year, only to avert them, often at the last minute."

Wasson joined The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris on Wednesday morning with an update on where negotiations stood.

Wasson said Congressional negotiators generally agree on the omnibus except for five or six "very small issues." Republicans, however, said Democrats are stalling on the omnibus because Democrats fear passing the omnibus will leave them "in the lurch" over the payroll tax cut extension.

If Democrats pass the omnibus, "Nothing will stop the House GOP from leaving town with their version of the payroll tax on the table," Wasson said.

He added, "There would be a lot of pressure [on Democrats] to pass the Republican version."

On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that paid for the payroll tax cut extension by extending federal employees' pay freeze through 2013. President Obama said he would veto any extension that did not raise taxes on the wealthy and that only cut government spending. However, Obama's veto threat did not specify that he opposed a federal pay freeze extension. Wasson said there is still a possibility that federal employees could face another year of frozen pay.

With government funded through midnight Friday, time is even shorter considering the other bills Congress has on its agenda. Today, the Senate is going to "waste time" on the balanced budget amendment, called for in the debt ceiling deal in August, Wasson said.

Congress also must move forward with the defense authorization bill.

To pass the omnibus before Friday would be "completely impossible," Wasson said.

Wasson said the CR will probably last only a few days, "possibly right up until Christmas Eve," to give Congress enough time to pass the omnibus.

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