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Reid: Democrats Would Stop a Rider-Riddled Omnibus

Reid was interviewed in his Capitol office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:24 a.m. | Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are prepared to unite again and protect the Obama administration's agenda in the December spending debate.  

That was the message from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid as the bipartisan budget deal heads to the White House. The Nevada Democrat told CQ Roll Call he has some advice for House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and other appropriators about how to draft an omnibus.  

"The president, Pelosi, Reid, my entire caucus has agreed to hold hands. We are not going to approve anything that has all these ideological, short-sighted, crazy ideas; to do away with women's health, to do away with clean air, to attack Dodd-Frank and all these," Reid said. "We're not going to do that. We're going to stick to that."  

Reid's comments came in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday in his Capitol office.  

The budget blueprint that passed the Senate early Friday on a 64-35 vote sets up the next step: Writing an omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 11, when a continuing resolution expires. The omnibus bill is necessary because lawmakers were unable to agree on how to move forward of any of the dozen regular spending measures.  

The Democratic opposition to the fiscal 2016 riders is already causing concern among Republicans, including Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas.  

"They always talk about give and take. You can't take things off the table and have a productive negotiation," Moran, chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee, told CQ Roll Call.  

"In my view the riders are among the most important aspect of the appropriations process," Moran said. "It is the opportunity for members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, to come together and send messages ... very effective messages, when we tell them how they can spend the money and whether they can spend it at all."  

He said he's already discussed the issue of policy riders with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.  

A noxious rider is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Democrats and Republicans alike have included provisions in the spending bills drafted by the Senate committee. For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., already put language in a fiscal 2016 spending bill designed to bar the Obama administration from punishing states that may decide to opt out of the Clean Power Plan.  

"If Sen. Reid insists that the Democrats won't give 60 votes to consider the omnibus bill because they have riders in them? That is an outcome that is something we can't tolerate. Agencies and departments need instructions from Congress, and they need instructions from Republicans and Democrats both," Moran said.  

Rogers said there was no agreement in the budget deal about which policy riders would or would not be permitted.  

"We'll be in conference with the Senate, 12 separate conferences, subcommittee conferences, so we'll handle it as it comes up and deal with it then," he said.  

House Appropriations spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said in an email that Rogers "has a long history of working together with his colleagues on both sides of the Capitol to get the critical work of the Appropriations Committee completed."  

Looking ahead, Reid and Rogers have both expressed optimism about a functioning process for fiscal 2017 — though that's a tall order in a presidential election year, especially when sitting members of the Senate are seeking the White House.  

"The appropriations process this year will not be perfect, but we'll get an omnibus, and certainly we'll have our 302 allocations and that'll be good," Reid said. "We'll get something done, hopefully by Dec. 11, otherwise the Republicans will close the government, and I don't think they want to do that."  

Because the budget agreement covers two years, Rogers noted that the parameters for fiscal 2017 are set. "That's all-important because then we can begin to put together our individual bills, as can the Senate, hoping that we can pass 12 separate ones and conference them separately, so I can get back to regular order," Rogers said.  

Rogers said House appropriations bills for fiscal 2016 were on track this year until lawmakers hit two stumbling blocks: a dispute over the Confederate flag and funding for Planned Parenthood.  

On the Senate side, Reid and his Democratic caucus blockaded spending bills at the lower, post-sequester spending levels, forcing the hand of Republicans into a negotiation on the big two-year budget deal. Going forward, Reid had a tough message for Rogers, specifically.  

"Rogers should get this message from me: what happens is they stick all this stupid ideological stuff in the bills, so when they come over here, there's no longer the rule that you can't legislate on appropriation bills, because that's what they did," Reid said.  

Rogers said earlier in the week that a proposal had been discussed that would have curtailed the ability to filibuster taking up appropriations legislation in the Senate. A senior Democratic aide said the proposal was still on the table late in the process, with Reid telling McConnell it would not be accepted.  

Reid emphasized that point during Wednesday's interview.  

"We'll handle our rules. We don't need the House's help. We don't want a second House of Representatives, and so I know they would like the Senate just to go away," Reid told CQ Roll Call. "But that isn't what the Founding Fathers had in mind, and so I would recommend to my Republican House colleagues: read the Constitution."  

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