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The vote is typically noncontroversial, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who is a member of the committee but seldom attends markups — showed up this time. He sought to offer a lower spending alternative. At the markup, McConnell argued that it was up to the Appropriations Committee to take a stand to reduce discretionary spending because Senate Democrats had not passed a fiscal 2011 budget.
Inouye eventually managed to pass a top-line spending level on a party-line vote that was higher than the Republican plan but less than he had originally sought.
Ultimately, the impasse kept Congress from passing the 12 appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year. Republicans managed to keep the issue alive for the 2010 elections. They won control of the House and boosted their numbers in the Senate.
The GOP campaigned on cutting spending and rolling back the deficit and has since taken almost every opportunity to make good on that promise, hoping to ride the tea party wave to bigger gains in 2012.
But the gridlock created by those fights, Inouye argued, has forced Congress to fund the government with stopgap continuing resolutions that give agencies little certainty about their budgets.
"That is what [the] breaking up of bipartisanship results in, a terrible CR," Inouye said.
"I am for regular order," he continued, adding that the panel has cleared 11 of the 12 annual spending bills by big bipartisan votes, which Inouye said bodes well for the committee to complete its work.
The breakdown in Senate Appropriations Committee bipartisanship might have strained his relationship with Cochran, who, under normal circumstances, typically votes with Inouye.
But Inouye, who calls Cochran his friend, tries not to take it personally. "I understood that," he said.
"That's life, you know; it's not always upwards, sometimes you go down," Inouye continued. "I've been around here long enough to prepare myself [for] just about anything."
After more than 50 years in Congress, Inouye believes that among the greatest lessons he has learned is that friendship leads to bipartisanship.
Legislating is "a bit more challenging today than it used to be 30 or 40 years ago," the Senator said during recent interviews in his office.
"For one thing, we socialized more before. We'd have time, we'd have lunches together. Today, very seldom do you see Members having lunch together," Inouye said.
"Somebody might say that's not a big thing. But if you develop warm relations, friendly relations by these activities, it may follow to the conference table," Inouye said. "Today, you don't have it."
Inouye's observations come as the Appropriations Committee, under divided government, has struggled to get any of the 12 annual spending bills into law. Congress has had two spending fights already this year that have threatened to end in government shutdowns, and the next continuing resolution — which the House is expected to pass today — will set up another potential showdown Nov. 18.
Inouye said he hoped there would not be another government shutdown crisis in November but refused to make any predictions.
The impasse, in part, stems from differences in ideology. Republicans have made cutting spending their No. 1 goal. Democrats, who also have embraced deficit cutting, have argued that the economy is too weak to cut too deeply now.