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Agreement Scarce Over Appropriations Methods

Chambers and Parties Split Over Approach to Passing Spending Measures

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Jeff Flake, an appropriator, has led the charge that leaders should cut spending more deeply and pursue an open process on spending bills. The Congressman said using an omnibus would provide “less incoming fire.”

In a House-Senate fight that cuts across party lines, Congressional leaders are divided over whether to pursue an omnibus appropriations bill or tackle the issue in three or four separate "minibus" bills that combine spending measures.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a veteran appropriator, has pushed the minibus strategy, and many of his colleagues prefer the approach because it allows more input from rank-and-file Members and closer consideration of each measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) backed the strategy Wednesday, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has also said he prefers that approach.

Reid said Wednesday the Senate would begin considering a minibus this week that will be made up of the appropriations bills for: Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

A House Appropriations Committee aide said the bill is not related to negotiations between the two chambers over spending levels and other issues because a true minibus would be a vehicle agreed on by both chambers.

"My preference is for single appropriations bills, and the next best thing is for minibuses," said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who is also an appropriator. "We have to go deeply into every function of government and appropriate exactly the amount of money [required], and it is much easier to do when you are dealing with one bill at a time. One is better than three, and three is better than 12."

House GOP leaders agree three or four vehicles combining several
appropriations bills each would give Members more input, but it's for that reason some of them prefer an omnibus. Fresh from losing a floor vote on a short-term continuing resolution over conservative defections, leaders are wary of the number of demands they'll face from Members on minibus bills.

They also argue a single vehicle would give them more leverage in negotiations with Democrats about spending levels and riders.

There is "less incoming fire" with an omnibus, said Rep. Jeff Flake, characterizing the first part of the argument. The Arizona Republican is an appropriator but has led the charge that leaders should cut spending more deeply and pursue an open process on spending bills.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers confirmed that some GOP leaders are arguing for an omnibus for those two reasons. "Yes, that's one point of view," the Kentucky Republican said.

An omnibus could inflict political bruises for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) because House Republicans harshly criticized one-size-fits-all spending bills in the previous Congress and vowed in their "Pledge to America" to "advance major legislation one issue at a time."

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