Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is insisting that he will not permit any “rushing for the exits” this week by lawmakers wanting to recess for the year until Congress passes a bill to extend the payroll-tax cut and unemployment assistance.
Democratic sources on Tuesday stopped short of saying that Reid--in conjunction with President Obama--will forestall a final vote on the package of nine annual spending bills that were due on Oct. 1 until the payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance are extended. Both are set to expire at the end of the year.
But Republicans certainly think those are Democrats' marching orders.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Obama and Reid of holding the government spending package hostage for political gain.
“This isn’t just irresponsible, it’s reckless,” McConnell said in a floor speech on Tuesday.
To gain leverage in the payroll-tax cut debate, Reid may tie the fate of a separate, massive $900 billion-plus spending plan to finance most government operations in 2012 to the successful passage of the extender bill—even though House Republicans say “a handshake deal” with congressional Democrats was secured.
Despite that accord, McConnell said Reid was asking “his members to hold off signing the bipartisan funding” agreement.
“Put the political games aside,” McConnell urged.
In what may underscore Reid’s determination to get the payroll-tax measure passed, perhaps at the expense of stalling final action on the spending measure, a senior Senate Democratic aide would not rule out the need for another stopgap continuing resolution later this week to keep money flowing to agencies that are covered under the nine tardy spending bills.
The current CR expires on Friday, and without passage of an omnibus package or another temporary funding measure, a partial government shutdown could ensue.
Without saying whether Obama asked Reid to hold up the omnibus package or not, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Congress should not leave town without addressing the payroll-tax cut and other measures, even if that means adopting another CR.
"And I think if they were to do that, they would test the proposition that Congress’s job-approval rating cannot go below 9 percent, because I think that—my expectation is that it would go lower if Congress walked out of town, refusing to extend this payroll-tax cut for middle-class Americans.
"If there is the need, come the end of the week, for Congress to pass another short-term CR, as it has done seven times this year, then they should do that to avoid a shutdown," Carney continued. "We don’t need to get to that point, but if we do, this is certainly not a exceptional action that Congress would have to take to ensure that there is time to get the work done that it needs to get done."
A House Republican aide insisted that a handshake deal was struck with Senate Democratic appropriators on Monday and reiterated on Tuesday that Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, “told us he is on board for moving forward on our bill.”
What appears likely is that a near-deal has been reached by the conference committee on the spending bill; legislative aides say that the measure is written and already is more than 3,500 pages long.
Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said on Monday night that “all issues are closed” and that the group had an agreement, period. But ranking member Norm Dicks, D-Wash., was more circumspect, saying “there are a few things left that are still of concern.”
The delay raises the specter of a government shutdown starting Saturday. Reid's position would likely require the House to pass a short-term CR but Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said House Republicans do not plan to do so.
"We think [Senate Democrats] should pass the omnibus," he said, stressing that Democrats would be blamed for shutting down the government.
A Democratic leadership aide attributed the delay to differences over policy riders.
“We haven’t threatened anything,” the aide said. “The omni is not finished—there are at least five issues still outstanding."
Carney said the negotiations aren't over.
"Despite some of what you’re heard, there’s been no bill filed, there’s been no language shared," Carney said. "But we do know through conversations that there are issues that concern us, including outstanding issues with the funding levels to ensure that the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act can be implemented successfully."
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, the chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, challenged that assertion.