WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate, following a contentious week of bickering over amendments and procedure, approved its version of a $982 billion measure that would keep the Pentagon and other federal agencies open beyond next Wednesday.
Behind-the-scenes bickering spilled into public repeatedly during nearly two weeks of debate, as angry senators looking to secure a floor vote on their continuing resolution (CR) amendments vented on the Senate floor and when approached by reporters.
Bitter Republican senators blasted Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
They called Reid a “one-man rules committee,” a reference to the House panel that stipulates how debate and amendment votes will be conducted on the lower chamber’s floor. They accused Reid and Mikulski of blocking many of their desired amendments.
Reid, meantime, countered that Republicans — and some Democrats — proved “unmanageable” during the CR floor process. He also accused them of using the CR process to delay work on a 2014 budget resolution crafted by a Democrat, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray.
Mikulski and SAC Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., appeared on the Senate floor repeatedly to ask their colleagues to allow the CR to move forward, acknowledging it was an imperfect product.
“Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Mikulski said at one point.
Reid on a handful of occasions used his floor remarks to praise Mikulski and Shelby for working across the aisle in an age of bitter partisanship.
The chill encompassing the Senate began to thaw around midday Wednesday.
Hallways buzzed with talk of Reid’s repeated threats to keep the upper chamber in session through the weekend to allow for the required 50 hours of floor debate on the Murray budget plan.
And a long-planned two-week recess slated to begin Friday suddenly came into view, meaning senators were starting to become concerned about getting back home for planned events and fundraisers — conjuring up the old joke about jet fuel being the ultimate motivator on Capitol Hill.
After plowing through the amendments the two sides could agree on late Wednesday afternoon, the CR first cleared a 60-vote threshold to end debate.
Moments later, the upper chamber, by a 73-26 vote, ended debate on its version of the $982 billion continuing spending resolution. More than a dozen Republicans voted in favor with Democrats. Attached is the same full-year $518.1 billion 2013 Pentagon appropriations bill that already passed the House. It departs from the House-passed CR by including several other agency spending measures that were pre-conferenced with House appropriators.
House GOP leaders have indicated they likely will bring the Senate CR, which essentially is a mini-omnibus appropriations bill, to an up-or-down vote quickly. That would avoid a government shutdown, which will occur if both chambers fail to pass a compromise version of the CR and send it to President Obama by next Wednesday.
The measure, like the House version, leaves in place the twin $500 billion, decade-spanning defense and domestic sequester cuts. But hawkish lawmakers, Pentagon officials and industry executives favor the passage of a full-year DoD appropriations bill because a full spending bill would give the Pentagon more budgetary flexibility than would another CR.
For instance, DoD officials will be able to transfer funds among accounts, which lawmakers and defense officials say will allow them to partially soften the blow sequestration that will land on the Pentagon budget in 2013: a $46 billion across-the-board cut.
“For that amount of money, the last seven months, they’ll still have reprogramming authority for [the remainder] of 2013,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters last Thursday.
Once passed by the Senate, the CR, which essentially is a mini-omnibus spending measure, will go back to the House where it originated. The original House-crafted version featured the same Defense Department, Department of Veterans Affairs and Military Construction spending bills attached to the Senate version.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said late last week of the Senate measure: “So far, so good.”
Few major changes have been made to the upper chamber’s bill since the speaker’s comment, but that is no guarantee these days on Capitol Hill.
While many Republicans disliked the final Senate version — for a variety of reasons — some said its passage is a step in the direction of curing the Senate’s ills.
“This bill represents the first modest step toward reining in wasteful, Washington spending. Though imperfect, this bill lowers spending levels, keeps the sequester savings in place, and ensures our military and border patrol have the funding and flexibility they need,” said Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “And, it will avoid more ‘crisis governing’ that undermines public confidence.”
Reid and other Senate leaders have said that if enough House members object to the Senate’s amended and expanded version, appropriators and leadership would convene a rapid conference committee to iron out any differences and produce something they believe will satisfy enough lawmakers to secure final passage.
Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers say they want to avert a government shutdown.