Omnibus Plans Face Resistance

Posted December 11, 2007 at 6:45pm

Democrats struggled to hash out a new spending strategy on Tuesday amid resistance in both parties to an earmark-free spending plan floated by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and a new proposal by Senate Republicans for an across-the-board cut.

Obey’s plan, proposed in frustration on Monday in response to a White House veto threat on a Democratic omnibus proposal, has met resistance in both chambers and parties from Members intent on keeping their projects. Democrats moved forward on other issues Tuesday, including energy and an alternative minimum tax patch, but had not settled on a spending plan by press time.

Obey refused to make any predictions late Tuesday on when Democrats would opt for a long-term continuing resolution keeping the government open for the rest of the year.

“I’ll tell you how soon I will make a decision when I know how soon the Senate will sell us out,” Obey said after meetings among Democratic leaders in both chambers ended without any announcement of a new plan.

Asked by a reporter what he meant, he said, “You know what I mean, and the Senate knows what I mean.”

Obey also took a hard line on not adding spending for the Iraq War. “I am perfectly willing to lose every dollar on the domestic side of the ledger in order to avoid giving the money for the war without conditions,” Obey said. He then noted that was his personal view only and may not reflect what ends up in the bill.

Obey also complained that Members cared more about earmarks than they do about the war or domestic spending.

Asked what the next step is, Obey replied, “God only knows.”

Obey has proposed cutting Republican priorities and earmarks from both parties to reach President Bush’s $933 billion budget level after Bush threatened to veto a bill that would add $11 billion to prevent cuts to domestic programs and $7 billion in emergency spending for items like border security and home heating assistance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) earlier said he would be happy to listen to Obey about his idea, but threw cold water on the idea of nuking earmarks. Reid said he felt Senators should have as much of a say in directing how money is spent in their states as the White House.

And neither House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) embraced the idea of slashing all earmarks.

Boehner called Obey’s comments an “idle threat” while McConnell offered his own plan, which would protect earmarks but include an across-the-board cut to domestic spending programs to bring them down to the president’s budget level. McConnell also said he would add $70 billion in war supplemental spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, money that is strongly opposed by Obey and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) because it would not contain any timetables for withdrawal.

Pelosi met with Reid for well over an hour Tuesday afternoon to discuss the appropriations impasse but emerged with no details for the waiting press gaggle, only saying that she still hopes to bring a bill to the floor this week.

Pelosi has a meeting scheduled Wednesday morning with Appropriations subcommittee chairmen to discuss what to do next.

Meanwhile, both Boehner and McConnell showed some flexibility on adding billions of dollars in “emergency spending” for items like border security, drought relief and low- income heating assistance.

Boehner said “it all passes the straight-face test” in a press conference with reporters, endorsing a $7 billion package of such spending. But his spokesman later contacted reporters to walk back from his earlier comments.

“Mr. Boehner has consistently supported funding for true emergencies like border security but some of the money the Democrats designate as ‘emergency’ may be unacceptable and should be offset,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said. “Until we see the final package, Mr. Boehner will reserve judgment on all ‘emergency spending’ the Democrats include.”

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), meanwhile, said that not only would Republicans not accept more domestic spending than Bush wants, they also would not accept policy riders that they do not support, naming border security and oil shale provisions among the items of concern.

McConnell’s proposal, meanwhile, came under fire from both left and right. The conservative Club for Growth President Pat Toomey ripped the plan for protecting earmarks.

“It is a shame to see the highest-ranking Republicans in the Senate move to the left of the Democrats on earmarks,” Toomey said.

Toomey praised House Republicans for standing firm against any extra spending, and praised Obey’s proposal. “We think this is a fantastic idea and applaud Obey for recognizing that earmarks are the least-worthy component of the omnibus bill,” Toomey said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) piled on. “First Mitch McConnell sides with the White House and insists on a blank check for Iraq. Now he’s fighting for earmarks over funding for cancer cures, the veterans health care crisis, and 50,000 new American teachers.”

Meanwhile, moderates sought to get both sides to ratchet down the rhetoric and try to reach common ground. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said that while “everyone seems to be positioning themselves,” a deal is going to require movement from all parties.

“I think it’s about meeting halfway,” Snowe said. “Both sides have to understand that. It’s more important that we reach a consensus at this point.”

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said that at some point Senate Democrats are going to have to accept what they can accomplish, rather than what they want to accomplish.

“This is where everyone takes a little haircut or maybe a shave. Everybody gives up a little bit,” Lott said.

While the spending endgame continued to devolve into chaos, House Democrats moved forward with a new plan to pay for the AMT patch, expected to come to the House floor Wednesday, while Senate Democrats expected a Thursday vote on an energy package that will be shorn of a controversial mandate for renewable electricity and include a reworked $21 billion tax package to pay for incentives for renewable energy.

Jennifer Yachnin and Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.