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Reid Parks 'Minibus' Spending Bill in Amendment Dispute

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Well, so much for that idea.  

The Senate's appropriations process seemed to fall apart Thursday afternoon as the first fiscal 2015 "minibus" found itself with flat tires.  

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had one of their all-too-familiar floor exchanges Thursday afternoon, during which Reid proposed an agreement to take up the three-bill spending package with an amendment process that would require 60 votes for amendments to be adopted. "We've waited all week to get a simple agreement to move forward on appropriation bills the way we've always done it and if it had been just one appropriation bill, we wouldn't need consent but we put three of them together, and that was the right thing to do," Reid said. "But it seems to me that we spend all week doing so much of the time nothing. Sadly, I'm sorry this is the norm around here, where every single matter ... requires a full play of the cloture rule to advance."  

On a day-to-day basis, the supermajority requirement would not be out of the ordinary in the modern Senate.  

Reid pointed to a series of statements by McConnell that signaled support for requiring significant votes needing 60 senators, though appropriations bills are supposed to operate under a unique set of rules that preclude the offering of amendments that aren't germane.  

McConnell rejected Reid's proposed rules.  

"It was my hope we could get forward on this appropriation bill with a full and open amendment process and a reasonable number of amendments from both sides. The only restrictions on amendments to this bill are those in the standing rules of the Senate," McConnell said.  

McConnell noted that amendments that are substantively legislative would in any case need to be germane to the corresponding House version. That could have been a point of contention. The House has yet to pass a fiscal 2015 Agriculture-FDA measure, meaning the very nature of the House position could be in dispute.  

The Senate Appropriations Committee met earlier in the day to approve spending bills for the legislative branch and State-Foreign Operations, but the panel indefinitely deferred action on the Energy-Water measure .  

McConnell was planning a contentious amendment to that bill taking aim at the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of carbon emissions.  

For the measure on the floor, Reid needed consent because attempting to add the Agriculture-FDA and Transportation-HUD spending measures to the Senate's Commerce-Justice-Science bill piggybacked on the House's CJS legislation runs afoul of the germaneness rule that ordinarily applies to spending measures. Without an agreement, the bill would fall apart.  

The sparring played out as most attention was on the other side of the Capitol Rotunda, as leadership voting was underway within the House Republican Conference.  

After facing an objection from McConnell, Reid moved to proceed to a bipartisan sportsmen's bill championed by North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan, effectively shelving the appropriations debate for another day.