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Senate Democrats Seek Wider Scope, May Add Appropriations Bills

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Mikulski, the Appropriations chairwoman, has been tapped by Reid to craft a Senate package that includes more spending bills than the House-passed measure.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, said he was in conversations with Mikulski and was optimistic that other provisions could be added in the Senate. “We’ve got to see what’s doable,” he said. “I don’t think it will be an omnibus. I don’t think so. But it might be some kind of a hybrid. I’d call it a hybrid, smaller than a minibus.”

New spending bills added to Mikulski’s measure may still reflect the cuts made by the sequester, but they would move money around within the cap to allow agencies to better manage these reductions. Leaving an agency running under a CR means it will be cutting spending while still following budget marching orders that Congress set in late 2011 when it cleared the fiscal 2012 appropriations laws (PL 112-55, PL 112-74).

Among the clear candidates for the Senate’s fiscal 2013 bill are those from the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee and the Agriculture and Homeland Security measures. Staff members and appropriators largely worked out House-Senate compromise agreements for these two last years. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said she hoped her panel’s bill could be added to the package but that an obstacle remained.

“I just don’t know if we are going to be able to resolve all of the issues with high-speed rail,” Collins said.

The differences over numerous such issues present serious hurdles to efforts to expand the scope of the funding resolution, and questions over the funding for issues with sharp partisan division, such as implementation of the Affordable Care Act and new financial regulations, provide even steeper barriers.

“I don’t think we would want any game-breakers,” said Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Among the bills facing such a challenge are the Financial Services measure, which would cause a fight about funding the 2010 Dodd-Frank overhaul (PL 111-203) of the financial services industry, and the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education measure, which would spark debate about money to be spent on the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). The Interior-Environment measure also has been marked by some deeply partisan splits.

Other bills may be excluded from Mikulski’s measure because they contain unresolved issues, said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee. With 13 or 14 items still to be worked out on his panel’s bill, he said, it’s “not at the head of the line.”

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