US Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — Even as the US Senate remains unable to pass agency spending bills, the two chambers’ Appropriations committees have yet to begin work on a compromise bill to fund the military next year.
A senior House aide told CongressWatch “no discussions on this have occurred” when asked if the Appropriations panels have begun what’s known on Capitol Hill as “pre-conferencing” a version of the 2015 Pentagon spending bill.
That tactic has been used before to pass defense legislation when the Senate has been unable to get its own bill done. What typically would occur is both chambers pass different versions of a bill, then a House-Senate conference committee irons out differences and produces a version that gets quick approval in each chamber.
But a years-long partisan fight in the upper chamber over procedure and amendments has made passing any legislation — even department-specific appropriations bills — nearly impossible.
Congressional sources have said for months that a massive continuing resolution that would fund all agencies at past-year levels or an omnibus spending bill that could feature a full 2015 defense appropriations bill likely will be necessary in coming months.
If House and Senate leaders opt for the latter, with the Senate unable to pass spending bills, the two chambers’ Appropriations committees would have to get together behind closed doors and write a compromise defense funding bill.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., vowed late last year to get back to “regular order,” meaning her panel would pass department spending measures then they would be passed on the floor.
But, so far, the latter has not occurred. Most recently, the Senate melted down when Mikulski and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., pieced together a three-bill “minibus” that featured a $21 billion Agriculture Department appropriations bill, a $51 billion Commerce-Justice-Science measure, and a $54 billion Transportation/Housing and Urban Development bill.
Reid had to pull the bill, however, when Republicans charged him with preventing their amendments from getting a vote. Democrats screamed about GOP obstruction tactics.
As the Senate stumbles, the Republican-controlled House continues to easily pass appropriations bills.
“The House continues to plow through our work,” the senior House aide said, “and have considered 11 bills in committee and will pass our sixth bill on the floor this week.” ■