Two days after unveiling a 1,924 page earmark-filled Omnibus Budget plan, Democrats last night pulled the plug on the massive budget bill, sparking an hour of bitter exchanges on the Senate floor.
What most people probably don’t realize is that the Omnibus bill was the product of months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee, all of which had the backing of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In other words – it was Business As Usual in the Congress.
“It was a Democratic and Republican bill,” complained Sen. Reid.
But after the results of the November elections were in – where a dominant message was that Congress was spending too much money – McConnell pulled a 180 degree turn and declared his opposition to the bill, ultimately bringing other GOP Senators along with him.
“There’s only one reason why cloture is not being filed,” McConnell said just a few feet away from Reid on the Senate floor last night, “He doesn’t have the votes.”
A number of GOP Senators – “Nine” according to Reid – had been ready to back the bill and overcome any filibuster. But in the past 48 hours, they came under huge pressure from McConnell, other Republicans and conservative groups, and were forced to drop their support.
“We just saw a rather extraordinary event on the floor of the Senate,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who for years fought a lonely, losing battle against leaders in both parties over spending and earmarks.
“Huge defeat for the big spenders, and a great victory for the American people,” McCain said.
While the outcome was hailed by Republicans, it was bitterly denounced – in personal terms – on the Senate floor by Democrats, who ripped McConnell to his face, and blasted Republicans for negotiating the details, getting their earmarks and then yanking their support.
“If you looked up the word hypocrite in the dictionary,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said you would find Senate Republicans who actively asked for earmarks in the Omnibus.
McCaskill had been directly involved in the negotiations, along with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), as they pressed for a freeze in spending levels for this fiscal year. That was finally agreed to – until it fell apart in the past 48 hours.
McCaskill, who is one of the few Democrats who does not ask for budget earmarks, skewered both sides on pork barrel spending, while also ripping Republicans for trying to portray Democrats as the only ones at the trough.
“This is an equal-opportunity sin,” McCaskill said in an aggravated tone. “The problems with this Omnibus bill lie on both sides of the aisle.”
So, instead of a funding bill that would keep the government running through the end of the current fiscal year, Congress will likely approve a short-term extension into February or March.
That was favored by Republicans, because it will allow them to start cutting federal budgets right away, not in the following fiscal year.
Only time will tell if the GOP will be able to get cuts both through the House, through the Senate, and signed into law.
It will be one of the big issues of the 112th Congress, which starts on January 5 at 12 noon.