By Erik Wasson - 12/14/11 01:50 AM EST
The prospect of a short-term spending measure to keep the government operating into next week is becoming more likely.
The White House on Tuesday said lawmakers should consider the short-term measure to buy more time for Senate Democrats and House Republicans to negotiate a $1 trillion omnibus bill and a separate tax package the White House wants to boost the economy.
Without approval by Friday of either the omnibus or a short-term funding measure, the government would shut down.
Still, a short-term funding bill seems much more likely, given that both sides stand to be blamed by the public if the government shuts down. President Obama and leaders of the House and Senate have lurched toward shutdowns repeatedly this year, only to avert them, often at the last minute.
Appropriators in the House and Senate are nearly at a deal on the omnibus. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the two sides have agreed on 98 percent of the bill.
But Democrats have yet to sign on to the deal, and Republicans on Tuesday accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of holding the omnibus hostage to gain leverage in the fight over taxes.
The GOP said Reid was preventing Democratic negotiators from signing off on the omnibus deal to prevent the House from approving the omnibus and its favored tax package and then leaving town.
Such a scenario would put pressure on Senate Democrats to agree to the GOP version of the tax bill for fear they would otherwise be blamed for raising the payroll tax.
“If you’ve been on Capitol Hill for close of sessions, you will have witnessed the phenomenon where the House of Representatives passes a spending bill, throws it at the Senate chamber and heads for the airport,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, told reporters Tuesday. “We can’t let that happen this year.”
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Reid appeared to be worried that his own caucus would vote to approve the House bill if the House left town.
“What they don’t want is that all the business is done but the payroll tax holiday extension because they feel that puts too much pressure on their Senate Democratic members,” Kyl said.
Reid did not cop to the strategy, but said he was in no hurry to leave Washington.
“Republicans seem eager to get out of town,” Reid told reporters. “Some have even suggested they’re willing to leave before we reach a compromise on the payroll tax cut and other things. We’re not going to do that. We’re willing to stay here until that happens or we work something out.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Tuesday for Senate leaders to “come to their senses” and let the Democrats sign the omnibus, which was on track to be a rare example this year of bipartisan cooperation.
“They’ve smiled at each other, they’ve shook hands and it’s done,” Boehner said.
“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.”
Democrats disputed the GOP argument that talks on the omnibus were over.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said his members have not signed the report because negotiations were ongoing, and Reid said the reason the omnibus was not signed on Monday, as scheduled, was that about “six or seven” issues remained outstanding.
Democratic aides offered specifics on the remaining battles. In the Defense section, they said Democratic conferees oppose Republican demands to waive rules so that the military could buy coal as an “alternative fuel.”
They are also fighting with Republicans over the GOP’s demand to prevent a forced transition from incandescent light bulbs.
In the Financial Services section, both sides still have not resolved battles over language preventing Cuban Americans from traveling to Cuba and restrictions on local government funding of abortions in the District of Columbia, Democrats say.
Republicans predicted that Reid’s gamble would backfire.
“It doesn’t make any sense. Your leverage runs out in three days,” one aide said, noting the Friday deadline for action on the spending bills.
The aide said the omnibus would probably pass before lawmakers can reach a deal on a bill that includes an extension of the payroll tax cut.
The GOP said Obama would look bad if he shut down the government to block Senate passage of the House payroll tax bill, which also forces the administration to decide whether to permit the Keystone oil sands pipeline to be built from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
“I am very surprised by it. I think the country wants an orderly end to the spending process here,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), an appropriator, said. “Suddenly the majority leader is gumming up the whole process over the Keystone pipeline. … This is all about the president not wanting to do the Keystone pipeline, and I cannot think of a worse issue for him to pick.”