By Russell Berman and Erik Wasson - 10/05/11 09:30 AM EDT
Frustrated House Republicans are grappling with the possibility that they will be forced to swallow the kind of massive spending package many of them campaigned against when Democrats were in power.
The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a stopgap spending bill to carry the federal government through Nov. 18, ending the latest spending crisis on Capitol Hill.
The Senate has passed just one of 12 annual appropriations bills, while the House has passed six. If the two chambers cannot make significant progress, the most likely fallback option is to combine the 12 bills into one omnibus measure.
“I think everybody expects that,” said Rep. Austin Scott (Ga.), president of the House GOP freshman class.
The prospect of signing off on a bill that could exceed 1,000 pages and appropriate about $1 trillion in federal spending is a sore subject for Republicans, particularly the freshmen who pledged not to vote for legislation too bulky even to read.
“I didn’t vote to create the debacle and the train wreck that’s coming,” freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) said. “So we’ll have to wait to see what happens.”
Congressional leaders have yet to decide on a path forward, and senior appropriators in both chambers are working feverishly to inch closer. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), said he spoke on Tuesday morning with his Senate counterpart, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
To avoid combining bills or another stopgap bill, the House and Senate would have to agree upon and pass 12 separate bills.
For now, House leaders have no plans to move more appropriations bills until they see what the Senate plans to do.
“We demonstrated we were able to get whatever it is that we set out to do done. They have not done a thing,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters Monday. “I think it will all come down to what is doable in the Senate.”
Neither Cantor nor Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has ruled out an omnibus bill.
“We’ve done our best to move appropriations bills in an open and regular process. If the Senate fails to do so, we’ll have to consider other options,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday he hoped to pass three additional appropriations bills before the end of October — those funding the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Transportation.
The Senate GOP conference is balking at the possibility of an omnibus package, and appropriators are considering the possibility of combining the 12 appropriations bills into what aides have dubbed “minibuses” — a few bills that would be more manageable to complete than a dozen separate measures.
The conservative defectors are unlikely to be won over in future appropriations bills based on the debt-deal cap, leaving Boehner and Cantor in a potentially weakened position as they bargain with Democrats.
Democratic and Republican appropriators are negotiating over how to divide that $1.043 trillion number into 12 pie slices. “Before we do anything, we have got to settle that. We have to all be talking on the same level,” Rogers said.
He added that the House has proposed allocations based on the $1.043 trillion ceiling but the Senate has yet to agree. Inouye is conferring with his members, Rogers said.
Once the spending levels are set, the two sides will be able to discuss whether to move one omnibus or several “minibuses,” Rogers said.
A primary fight has already begun over policy restrictions Republicans are demanding to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency, limit funding to abortion-rights groups and target President Obama’s healthcare law. Democrats blocked most of the GOP’s provisions earlier this year in the battle over 2011 funding, but Republicans have signaled they will keep pushing for their inclusion this time around.
Democrats are hoping to seize on divisions in the House Republican Conference as they head into negotiations over 2012 spending. Republicans needed Democratic help to pass the stopgap bill, a version of which failed when Democrats pulled their support. The final bill, the product of a Senate compromise, passed on a vote of 352-66, with 53 Republicans and 13 Democrats voting no.
As they have all year, Republicans are training their rhetorical fire on the Democratic-controlled Senate, assailing the upper chamber for never passing a 2012 budget resolution. Nearly two dozen GOP House freshmen held a news conference Tuesday to mark 888 days since the Senate last approved a budget blueprint.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said the Senate was wholly to blame for the record-low approval rating of Congress.
“The fact that I am called a congressman does not mean that I have an 11 percent approval rating back home,” he said. “I’m suggesting we give them the fog test, take the mirror out and put it underneath their nose. What is going on there?
“It’s no circus. We’re doing our job. We’ve passed our bills,” Kelly said of the House.
This story was updated at 10:50 a.m.