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Appropriators Still Hoping For a Lame-Duck Omnibus

House and Senate appropriators are reporting progress in their effort to hammer out an omnibus spending bill for the current fiscal year and Republican and Democratic aides are hoping it’s ready to land a slot in a crowded year-end congressional calendar.

The committees are operating under the $1.047 trillion spending limit set by the Budget Control Act rather than the lower level House Republicans had sought this year — and which the White House has repeatedly warned would be unacceptable.

“Chairman Inouye believes an omnibus, while not a perfect solution, is a far better option than putting the government on autopilot for six months or even a full year under a long-term continuing resolution,” said Rob Blumenthal, spokesman for Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii.

Blumenthal said the potential need for legislation to pay for Hurricane Sandy relief adds impetus to a catch-all spending bill.

“Should leadership determine that now is the time to move our legislation, the committee will be prepared to do so,” Blumenthal said.

A House Republican aide said negotiations are going well, although some bills such as Defense and Homeland Security are farther along than others, as is typical. The aide said there is a better than 50-50 chance at this point of getting a bill.

Congressional leaders haven’t yet pulled the plug on the idea and getting a package across the finish line also would help clear the plate for the White House and departments, which otherwise will be operating under a continuing resolution (H J Res 117) that simply extends current the past fiscal year’s policies and spending levels through March 27, 2013.

House and Senate aides also said it makes sense to do an omnibus even if a deal hasn’t been reached on the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts under sequester because any package will eliminate spending for some lower priority items that the CR would continue to fund.

The pitch to leadership also is that it will help show that Congress heard the will of the American people during the elections to quit squabbling and show they can get their work done.

Both Republican and Democratic appropriators, meanwhile, have an incentive to cut the deal, even though there won’t be earmarks. Having a seat on the appropriations panel hasn’t been the plum in recent years that it used to be, and failing to get their bills done won’t help perceptions of their power.

Completing a massive year-end package is sure to run into some resistance, however, particularly among conservatives such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has been critical of the idea of a lame-duck Congress passing a big spending bill.

But hard-core conservatives in each chamber tend to vote against appropriations bills anyway, so their votes aren’t needed — provided a bill is ready to go and leadership pushes hard enough to get it done.

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