Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is holding a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill hostage to win leverage in a separate fight over taxes, GOP lawmakers claimed Tuesday.
The GOP members said Reid is ordering Democratic conferees on the spending bill to not sign off on a deal so that he can keep the House in session to work on legislation extending the payroll tax backed by President Obama.
The House approved the bill in a 234-193 vote in which 224 Republicans supported it — short of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) goal of getting 240 GOP votes, which he said would give the House a "strong hand" in negotiations with Senate Democrats. The bill was opposed by 14 Republicans, but it attracted the support of 10 Democrats.
If the omnibus moved forward, the House could move its payroll bill and the omnibus and leave town, leaving it up to the Senate either to approve the GOP payroll tax cut bill or to let it die. This would put Reid and Senate Democrats in a tough position, since they could get the blame for letting the tax cut expire.
But by holding up the omnibus, Reid could keep both chambers in town until a compromise is reached on the tax bill, since neither party wants to risk a government shutdown.
If Congress does not approve either the omnibus bill or a continuing resolution to keep the government funded by Friday, most of the government would shut down.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that for the past six weeks, GOP and Democratic conferees in the House and the Senate have worked hard to produce an agreement on the omnibus. He called on Senate leaders to "come to their senses" and let the Democrats sign the final product.
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"They've smiled at each other, they've shook hands and it's done. I'm hopeful that the Senate leaders will come to their senses, allow members to sign this report — there's no reason to hold this bill up," Boehner said. "There's no problem with this bill — they shook hands," Boehner added.
“I think it is unfortunate to hold hostage this bill that both sides, both chambers have agreed upon, to hold that hostage for any purpose and to threaten a government shutdown is unfortunate,” Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said following a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday.
He said any government shutdown after the temporary spending bill runs out after Friday would be blamed on Democrats.
Rogers also said Reid is demanding the House pass a payroll tax bill that he likes and will not let the omnibus go forward until he gets his way.
Rogers said there is now no timeline for the release of the omnibus bill, which negotiators had planned to release Monday night. He said that the bill cannot be assembled and sent to congressional budget scorekeepers until Democrats sign it.
Reid counters that it is Republicans who have been taking hostages by adding controversial language to the payroll tax cut extension. He is chiefly upset with language meant to force the administration within 60 days to approve development of the Keystone oil sands pipeline between Alberta and the Gulf Coast.
"In effect, as some have said, what they are trying to do is kill the hostage," Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "The hostage is the Keystone pipeline. And if they push this through, it is bound and doomed to failure."
Senate Democrats also say there are still a handful of substantive issues on the omnibus and the GOP is pretending it is settled to get its way on those.
They say that in the Defense section, Republicans want to waive a section to so that the military can buy coal as an “alternative fuel.”
In the Energy section, the GOP wants to prevent a forced transition from incandescent light bulbs.
In the Financial services section, both sides still have not resolved battles over language preventing Cubans from traveling to Cuba and restrictions on local government funding of abortions in the District of Columbia, Democrats say.
Republicans put the blame on Reid. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), an appropriations subcommittee chairwoman, said that all the details of the omnibus are agreed to and that Democrats are playing a "game."
She also said the controversial riders in the Financial Services bill on Cuba and abortion had been resolved.
“Quit holding it hostage. Let us do our work. Sign the conference report you've agreed to,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said.
"If this doesn't get done by this Friday it will be those guys over there [in the Senate] who are shutting down the government," Simpson said.
On the payroll tax bill, Republicans don’t yet have the votes to approve their legislation but are “close,” members leaving the closed-door GOP conference meeting said Tuesday.
The package also extends unemployment benefits and prevents a cut in Medicare payments to physicians.
House Democrats are whipping against the package, meaning the GOP will need to depend mostly upon its members to move the package. Republicans have added several sweeteners to entice conservatives, including the Keystone language.
—This story was posted at 10:53 and last updated at 7:00 p.m.