McCain, Coburn stall Senate spending bill

Two Republican senators are holding up work on a $984 billion bill that would prevent a government shutdown and keep agencies funded through the end of the fiscal year. 

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Tuesday blocked the Senate from proceeding to debate on the bill, arguing they were not given enough time to read the 500-page legislation. 

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The two also said they had already found “pork barrel spending” in the measure, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). 

“What we have found is egregious pork barrel spending,” McCain said. “I hope in next few hours we’ll be able to finish examining the bill, but what we’ve found is so egregious ... frankly it’s beyond anything I have ever seen in my years in the United States Senate.” 

It is unclear how long McCain and Coburn intend to hold up the legislation. 


McCain said the two initially sent a letter to Democratic leaders asking for 72 hours to review the measure. But on the floor, McCain suggested in a conversation with Mikulski that he could have the bill read within 12 hours. 

“I don’t believe in a trillion-dollar bill that’s 587 pages, that it’s unreasonable to ask for 12 hours,” McCain said. “I assure you we’ll have it done soon.” 

Coburn said he would consider offering amendments once his staff finished reading the bill. At that point, he plans on giving consent to move to the bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday evening filed a cloture motion to end debate on the motion to proceed to the bill. The procedural move would set up a vote on Thursday.

Reid said that he was “stunned” and “flabbergasted” that the bill had been blocked. 

“I am somewhat amazed, stunned,” Reid said. “Just when you think it can’t get worse, it gets worse.” 

“This bill has been very scrutinized. Any of those tricks of the old days are not here,” Mikulski said. 

The Senate is hoping to conclude work on the measure this week and send it back to the House for a final vote. If the House and Senate do not agree to a measure by March 27, the government could shut down. 

Coburn argued on Tuesday that Reid was wrong to not allow senators more time to read legislation, and linked the lack of scrutiny to the nation’s debt. 

“To not allow us the time to assess what you have produced by being able to read and study the bill, goes against the best traditions of the Senate,” Coburn said. “Are we just to blindly say that we approve this bill because we have a deadline at the end of the month?”

 

The Senate bill sets the same spending levels as a government funding measure approved by the House last week. 

But the Senate bill adds three full appropriations measures to the House version. The House bill funded Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, while the Senate version adds appropriations for Agriculture, Homeland Security and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds.

McCain said that because new appropriations measures were added, he wanted time to review what was being funded.

“I’m not going to go back to my state and say I started the amendment process on a bill that I hadn’t read, I’m not going to do that,” the Arizona Republican said. “I think we are nearly through the examination of the bill. I do not wish to impede the progress of the Senate on this bill, but I’d remind [Reid] that we asked for 72 hours two weeks ago.” 

Reid argued that the senators did have additional time because most of the Senate bill came from the House last week. 

“The vast majority of this bill has come from the House of Representatives ... it’s been many days. I would hope that my friend from Arizona with his staff are looking at the bill that has been around basically since last Wednesday.”

Reid added that he wants to finish work on the continuing resolution this week because the Senate needs to also take up the budget before its Easter recess. 

If Coburn and McCain do not back down, Reid would have to start procedures that could push the debate on the funding bill into the weekend or next week. 

McCain also directed his anger on the floor at Shelby, a fellow Republican. 

“Why would you directly contradict the defense authorization bill?” he asked, referring to funds for a water system in Guam included in the new measure that was removed form the Defense authorization bill last year. 

McCain also complained that there was a $15 million provision in Shelby and Mikulski’s amendment that would direct the Department of Defense to spend up to 5 percent more on a defense contract if the bid came from a Native Hawaiian.

 

“Here we are in periods of sequestration and there is a provision in here that is for $15 million that is an incentive program to overpay for a contractor by 5 percent if the contractor is a Native Hawaiian,” McCain said. “What’s that all about? That’s why the senator from Oklahoma and I have to read the bill.” 

“We got this bill last night at nine o’clock, it is a 500-page bill,” Coburn said. “We just heard the majority leader say he doesn’t know why anyone wants to read the bill.” 

— Published at 3:47 p.m. and updated at 8:32 p.m.