Efforts to slow down a $1.108 trillion omnibus spending bill could ultimately lead to a government shutdown if lawmakers cannot agree on a path forward by the weekend.
Seeking to erode support for the omnibus, Republicans lashed out Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it was “a legislative slap in the face” to voters who want Congress to spend less.
Senate Democrats could bring up the omnibus as soon as today, but Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is considering forcing a reading of the 1,900-page omnibus in protest.
A Senate leadership aide said that would take about 50 hours. Once the reading is done, which would likely be Saturday, a cloture vote could be set for Monday, with final passage possibly Tuesday.
Senate Democratic leaders are hoping the GOP does not insist on all 30 hours of debate if cloture is invoked. After the omnibus, Senate Democratic leaders intend to go back to the START treaty.
Under this scenario Congress would likely have to pass another stopgap funding measure. The current continuing resolution expires at midnight Saturday.
But House and Senate Democrats Wednesday said they have no plans to extend the current CR.
“We have not talked about it,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “That is [Republicans’] problem if they want to shut down the government.”
House Rules ranking member David Dreier, R-Calif., told Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., during a meeting that “some Senate people” are saying it was likely there would be a government shutdown this weekend.
Slaughter responded: “We’ve sent the CR over there. There are no plans at this moment for us to do a second CR.”
Meanwhile, Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, criticized the omnibus for being packed with more than 6,000 earmarks worth about $8 billion.
But the measure contains hundreds of millions of dollars worth of earmarks requested by Republicans, including McConnell, who secured 42 earmarks worth $86.1 million in the package, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Thune secured 28 earmarks worth $38.5 million in the bill, while Cornyn secured 51 earmarks worth $93.5 million, the group estimated. Their requests came before Senate Republicans agreed last month not to request any earmarks for the next two years.
Asked about his earmarks, Thune said, “Well, those projects were projects that were vetted. Those are projects that we—I mean, I support those projects. But I don’t support this bill, nor do I support the process by which this bill was put together. And as John said, most of us voted, Republicans did, at our conference on a resolution that we would not request earmarks. So my way of expressing that is to vote against the legislation.”
The omnibus was released Tuesday by Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates came out in support of the omnibus on Wednesday, which would provide $667.7 billion for the Pentagon, a higher amount than the $636.3 billion from fiscal 2010.
Gates’ support comes despite his opposition to a provision providing $450 million for an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
In a statement Wednesday night, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates’ position on the extra engine “is well-known and unchanged: the department does not need it and cannot afford it.”
But Morrell added, “opposition to the extra engine and support for an omnibus spending bill need not be mutually exclusive.”
All the rhetoric gave some pause. Retiring appropriator Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., who previously said he would back an omnibus, said Wednesday he was not a certain “yes.”
“There are some good things in it, but there are some snakes in it like everything,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Another appropriator, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also said he was undecided. “It takes a long time to go through the 2,000 pages,” he said.
Even some Democrats expressed doubts. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd of Connecticut both said they would try to strip the alternate engine provision. Connecticut-based Pratt and Whitney builds the primary engine.
Dan Friedman and Megan Scully contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the December 16, 2010, edition of NJ Daily.