Democrats Ready to Abandon Second Spending Stopgap
A day after caving under Republican opposition to an omnibus spending bill laden with earmarks, Senate Democrats appear poised to abandon another nearly year-long spending measure over a lack of GOP votes.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledged Democrats will likely have to give up on passage of a 10-month, House-passed continuing resolution that would keep the government funded until Sept. 30.
“We won’t have a 10- or 12-month one, I don’t think,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters Friday afternoon. He added that the House is expected to send Democrats a shorter-term CR to keep the government running from Saturday into the middle of next week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced that the House would head home until Tuesday because the Senate could not guarantee it would finish work on a longer-term CR before midnight Saturday.
The House passed a three-day CR that expires Tuesday night to give the Senate more time to get its act together, with assurances from Reid and McConnell that the Senate would quickly send it to the president.
“The House is going to send us a real short-term one, and we’ll see what we can work out on another one here,” Reid said.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been pressing for a CR that would keep the government funded until mid-February.
But rank-and-file Democrats emerged from a rare Friday caucus meeting angry that they may have to give into Republican demands again.
Sen. Ben Nelson said many Democrats already feel “double-crossed” on the omnibus, which originally had the support of most Republican Appropriations members who had also signed off on the more than $8 billion in earmarks. But GOP support collapsed in the face of conservative outrage at the number and cost of earmarks, which made up less than 1 percent of the overall bill.
A visibly frustrated Nelson complained that Republicans just want to “kick the can down the road” and that they “do it every time there are difficult decisions to be made.”
The Nebraska Democrat added that he may have a hard time supporting a two-month CR because it lacks predictability for American citizens and businesses, and because it will force Congress to divert its attention away from creating jobs and beefing up the economy early next year.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) agreed that Democrats were smarting at having their spending plans scuttled, given the GOP promises of support for the omnibus.
Still, there was an air of resignation among some Members.
Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) said Democrats “are realistic about our chances at this point,” on what kind of spending bill can be passed. He added, “I think we’re at that point where the majority of Democrats are ready to vote on what we need to and get out of here.”
One Senate GOP aide said part of the reason McConnell is intent on a two-month CR is that Republicans want to be able to tie spending cuts next year to an expected vote on increasing the debt limit.
The increase of GOP Members in Congress has put a needed debt limit increase in jeopardy, despite the fact that declining to do so would cause the U.S. government to default on its debt, shut down the government and likely cause a massive panic in world stock markets. The GOP aide indicated Republicans needed spending cuts as leverage to get their new tea-party-inspired Members to go along with a debt limit increase.
Some Republicans have also objected to the long-term CR’s inclusion of a food safety bill that passed both chambers by wide margins, but which has been held up by a technical problem with the way it was approved by the Senate. Democrats fear that negotiations between Reid and McConnell could leave the food safety measure on the cutting room floor.
Meanwhile, Democrats also emerged from Friday’s luncheon voicing confidence that they will pass a bill to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay service members. That bill comes up for a procedural vote Saturday, and needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Democrats think they will have the votes of four Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Scott Brown (Mass.).
Democrats are not expected to beat back a filibuster on another measure known as the DREAM Act, which is designed to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant children.
Steven T. Dennis and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.