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Senate Democrats May Skip Appropriations Season

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the House GOP is the major hurdle delaying the appropriations process.

Amid lingering differences with the House over government spending, Senate Democrats may not pass any appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today said the major hurdle to completing the appropriations process is the House GOP, which has been pushing for spending cuts greater than what was agreed to under last year’s Budget Control Act. The House is moving its spending bills in accordance with the House Republican budget resolution, which sets spending at $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion spending level agreed to in that measure.

“We passed last August legislation that is now law that set forth the spending for this country during the next fiscal year,” said Reid. “They refuse to adhere to that. So that makes it hard to do these appropriation bills.”

Asked if he thought any spending bills would be cleared by the Senate before the end of the fiscal year, Reid said: “Until the Republicans get real, we can’t do that because they have refused to adhere to the law that guides this country.”

A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats remain committed to try to take up some of the spending bills, but noted that in addition to overcoming Republican opposition over spending, the crowded Senate calendar will also make it a challenge. Another Democratic aide stressed that House Republicans should be blamed for forcing Congress down the path to a continuing resolution and possibly an omnibus-spending package.

House Republicans argue that the level stipulated in the spending law is a cap, which Congress can spend below but not go over.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also believes the Senate runs the risk of not taking up any of the annual spending bills before the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s possible and it doesn’t speak well of the Senate,” Kyl said.

He said that the situation reminded him of a story he heard about a pessimist and an optimist.

“The pessimist says, ‘Things are so bad, they can’t get any worse’ and the optimist says, ‘Sure they can,’” Kyl said.

The situation is eerily similar to 2008, when Democrats decided to give up on passing most individual spending bills, partly to avoid election year votes on offshore drilling and partly because negotiating with then-President George W. Bush was fruitless.

Still, Senate appropriators remain hopeful, even though no spending measure has been mentioned as a candidate for action this month.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said his committee has been working hard to have the bills ready to go. To date, the panel has cleared nine of the 12 annual bills.

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