After a few brief days of Washington comity, Senate Republicans snapped back on Wednesday, sharply attacking a $1.2-trillion omnibus spending bill and threatening to derail what’s left of the lame duck congressional session.
FOR THE RECORD:
The headline on an earlier version of this article said the spending bill contained hundreds of billions of dollars in earmarks. The bill contains earmarks totaling $8 billion.
Republicans negotiated a compromise with the White House to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, a move some saw as a bipartisan opening for the session. But the spending bill, which opens the politically charged debate into earmarks and federal deficits, seems to have brought the cooperation to a halt.
“The government runs out of money this Saturday. Congress should pass a short-term continuing resolution immediately,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Wednesday morning on the floor. “We need to pass the tax legislation we voted on earlier this week. And we should accomplish the most basic function of government — we can at least vote to keep the lights on around here.
“Pass the tax legislation and keep the lights on,” he said. “Everything else can wait.”
Among the issues that would be forced to wait is Senate consideration of the arms-control treaty with Russia, called New START. There was also some hope among Democrats that Congress could reconsider action on allowing gays to openly serve in the military and even the DREAM Act, which deals with some aspects of immigration reform.
The issue that has riled Republicans is the omnibus spending bill. Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution to keep government funded, but the bill, released on Tuesday, goes further than bare bones.
Among the provisions, McConnell argued, is $1 billion to fund the healthcare bill that sorely divided Congress and which Republicans harshly criticized on the way to electoral victories last month.
“Yesterday, Democrats unveiled a 2,000-page spending bill that repeats all the mistakes voters demanded that we put an end to on election day,” McConnell argued. “Americans told Democrats last month to stop what they’ve been doing: bigger government, 2,000-page bills jammed through on Christmas Eve, wasteful spending. “This bill is a monument to all three,” he said, and urged the Senate to reject it.
The omnibus bill includes a reported 6,000 earmarks totaling $8 billion, special spending requested by lawmakers for favored projects. Earmarks were a campaign issue in the 2008 presidential election and an even bigger issue this year, driven by anger from conservatives and the "tea party" movement over growing federal deficits.
After the election, Senate Republicans in their caucus passed a two-year ban on what is often called pork barrel spending, or in this season, a Christmas ornament to curry votes on tough bills. House Republicans have extended their moratorium on such spending as well.
Of course, one person’s pork is another’s good government. McConnell has sought an earmark worth $4 million for marijuana eradication in his home state of Kentucky and more for a blood center and DNA research center – both also in Kentucky. Democrats have retaliated by pointing out that Republicans seeking earmarks are caught in their own web.
“Supposedly outraged Senate Republicans must have forgotten that spending requests have been online for six months, that this bill was put together in bipartisan fashion, and that government-directed spending has decreased by 75% since Democrats took control of the Senate,” Jim Manley, a top aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid, said in a prepared statement.
“They also must have forgotten that it was Democrats who put a stop to the earmark abuse that festered while Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for six years. But I’m sure they won’t hesitate to claim credit for earmarks in their own states, attending as many ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies as they can. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds,” he stated.
But Manley’s comments have seemingly had little effect on Republicans who insist they will vote against the omnibus spending bill, even if it contains their earmarks.
Calling the bill shocking and disrespectful of the election results, Sen. John Cornyn (R- Texas) said he and his colleagues will push for a continuing resolution and deal with the other issues next year when Republicans will have more sway in the Senate and will control the House.
Asked if the GOP was willing to shut down the government, Cornyn, who has also requested earmarks, said Wednesday morning on Fox News.
“What we can do is if we can get 41 senators to vote against closing off debate on this omnibus bill, we can do what we should have done in the first place and go to a short-term continuing resolution to keep the lights on until February and come back and do this the right way. We don't have to do it this way. This is the wrong way to try to keep the government operating.”