Senate plans second 'minibus' this week

Senate Democrats are ready to package another group of 2012 spending bills in a “minibus,” and plan to begin floor consideration Wednesday or Thursday. 

The first minibus, which contains funding for the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments, is up for a vote on final passage Tuesday and is expected to pass. The bills would then head to a House-Senate conference.

The next minibus would contain the bills funding the Energy Department, financial services and possibly the State Department, an aide said. 

The spending bills for financial services and State are more controversial than the other spending measures considered by the Senate so far. State contains cuts to foreign aid that are opposed by the administration. Passage of the financial-services bill would set off a battle with the House over provisions defunding the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

Including the Energy bill in this package would make it even more controversial, as it would almost certainly resurrect calls by House Republicans to defund green energy subsidies favored by the Obama administration. 

The top-line spending level for 2012 was set at $1.43 trillion by the August debt-ceiling deal. Fights over policy riders attached to the spending measures pose the biggest risk in terms of moving the measures and avoiding a government shutdown. 

So far, the only 2012 appropriations bill passed by both houses of Congress is the one funding military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The minibus process of grouping several appropriations bills into one package is an attempt to avoid one giant omnibus bill that would allow only limited debate and floor amendments.

The government is operating on a temporary spending bill that lasts through Nov. 18. 

Another temporary spending bill could be attached to the second minibus or be combined with the military construction bill. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has said a temporary bill would likely last until Christmas. 

Left outstanding are the highly controversial Labor and Health bill, and the Interior and environment bill. 

The House has proposed bills that defund President Obama’s healthcare reform law, while its environmental bill blocks dozens of environmental rules. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee has been unable to mark up its Interior and environment bill due to squabbling among subcommittee members. 

Also on tap are the Defense, Homeland Security and legislative-branch bills, though moving these could be less difficult. 

Defense enjoys broad support, and might be able to “carry” the other, more controversial bills to passage as part of a final five-bill package.