Carney said there were still holdups in the larger spending bill, and some Democrats on Capitol Hill pointed to differences in funding levels for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which the White House says needs more money to implement regulations created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.
There also were a handful of policy riders that were sticking points, according to Senate Democratic aides.
But the fights over the smaller issues seemed to be providing cover for the larger strategic move, one that is dividing Democrats.
House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin said he agrees with the Senate strategy of putting heat on the Republicans.
"I think it's wise for the Senate Democrats to insist that if we address the [appropriations package], that we find common ground on this bill," the Michigan Democrat said. "Republicans have to give ground on their refusal to look at taxation of the very wealthy families of this country."
It is unclear what leverage Democrats will gain from the strategy. They had been winning the messaging battle with Republicans on the payroll tax cut extension — charging that the GOP was protecting the low tax rates of the wealthy but doing little for the middle class and working class — but then ceded ground by letting the larger debate be consumed by the fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Now, with a nearly complete bill in limbo and no clear way forward on a payroll tax compromise, Democrats have opened the door for Republicans to shrug off blame for impasse because the House had two pieces of legislation at the ready.
"I am not sure if that confers any great advantage," Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said of delaying the appropriations conference report. "There are so many things that have to be done now. ... So trying to find a way through this thicket is not easy."
Senate leaders obviously disagree.
"We don't want to be stuck in a position where we're being given a CR or an omnibus, which they say, 'Do that. We can't agree on the other things. We'll talk about it in January,'" Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. "The president has made it clear that's unacceptable to him. It's unacceptable to us. Let's get our job done."
Democrats and Republicans were in dispute Tuesday over whether the appropriations package even had been completed, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying all that is missing "is the signatures" and Democrats maintain there are still several sticking points. Regardless of the level of disagreement, the very public move to use the appropriations legislation as a negotiating tool created serious frustrations across chambers and parties.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said Democrats reneged on the deal at the eleventh hour.
"It's settled. The big four were ready [Monday] night to file the bill," the Kentucky Republican said, referring to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Appropriations panels. "Then the word came that Sen. Reid had put a hold on our bill, that the Senate conferees would not sign the report."