Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) today addressed the House-Senate divide over this year's appropriations endgame, saying he's been "reluctant to even consider the idea of an omnibus" but noting that House and Senate negotiators remain at odds over how to divvy up the overall spending level.
"A lot of conversations going on amongst the appropriators and, frankly, some at the leadership level trying to come to an agreement," Boehner said. He said he hoped an agreement was reached "soon" with the legislative clock ticking.
An agreement on the so-called 302b allocations must come before House and Senate leaders will be able to decide whether to pursue an omnibus appropriations bill or tackle the issue in three or four separate minibus bills that combine spending measures.
The Senate has already begun moving its appropriations bills in minibus form, combining the appropriations bills for Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development in a bill set for consideration this week.
Senators from both parties said Wednesday they prefer a minibus strategy because it gives Members input from both sides.
Publicly, House leaders are loath to back an omnibus approach, especially since Boehner and GOP leaders made criticism of such a way of doing things a centerpiece of their 2010 midterm messaging.
But they won't rule it out, either, because some in GOP leadership are privately pushing that route. "No decision's been made," Boehner said.
In an interview late Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) walked that fine line as well, telling Roll Call, "I'm not in favor of omnibuses, I never have been. I don't think the American people are. But I think that right now we gotta follow through on the deal that we made and demonstrate the process can work."
GOP leaders pushing the omnibus are wary of the number of demands they'll face from three or four separate spending battles. There is "less incoming fire" with an omnibus, said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Appropriations Committee.
They also argue that a single vehicle would give them more leverage in negotiations with Democrats about spending levels and riders.
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.
"My preference is for single appropriations bills, and the next best thing is for minibuses," said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "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."
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