Another omnibus appropriations bill likely as the end of the year approaches

Congress will likely resort to another omnibus appropriations package next month as the end of the year approaches and most of the spending bills remain unfinished.

Congress has cleared just five appropriations bills out of 12 for fiscal 2010, which began Oct. 1.

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Efforts to pass the remaining spending measures have been dragged out in the Senate, where lawmakers are focused on healthcare reform and have been tussling over spending levels.

With the Thanksgiving recess coming up and a deadline of Dec. 18 — the day a stopgap government funding measure expires — lawmakers will soon start packaging the remaining bills together, appropriations experts said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who shared hopes with House Democratic leaders to get all the bills signed into law before October, acknowledged last month that an omnibus was likely.

This marks the 15th straight year Congress hasn’t passed the bills on time.

“It appears as though it doesn’t matter if it’s Republicans or Democrats in control of the Congress,” said William Hoagland, a former Senate Republican budget aide and now director of public policy for CIGNA Corp. “It is difficult to finish appropriations in the timeframe available to them.”

Hoagland expects lawmakers to start putting together an omnibus once they return from the Thanksgiving break. That would give them enough time to consider it before the end of the year, he said.

“Not only do you have to pass [an omnibus] in the two chambers, you also have to conference it, and that could easily take over a week,” Hoagland said.

altThe trouble in the Senate was apparent this week during debate over the spending bill for military construction projects and veterans’ benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made the bill a leading floor priority, hoping to get it passed the same week as Veterans Day. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) placed a hold on the bill, protesting funding for a caregiver program for wounded veterans that he said was duplicative of an existing program.

The military construction and veterans’ affairs spending bill is one of four appropriations bills yet to pass the Senate. The House passed all of its bills before the August recess and has been waiting for the upper chamber to act.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he still wants the bills individually, but laid the blame on GOP senators if they eventually turn to an omnibus.

“We hope to finish the appropriations process as soon as possible without an omnibus, but the obstructionist tactics of Senate Republicans are making that difficult,” Hoyer said.

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