Faced with Republican opposition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., dropped the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill late Thursday night as the final days of the lame-duck session wrapped up.
Reid, who had defended the 1,924 page bill, abandoned it after several Republicans who had considered voting in favor of it withdrew their support. Instead, Reid is pursuing a short-term continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday and said he would work with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., on it.
“We cannot afford a government shutdown,” Reid said in a statement. “In Nevada and across America, a government shutdown would mean no Social Security checks for seniors, no funding for schools, and no funding for border security."
Earlier on Thursday McConnell proposed a one page bill as an alternative to the mammoth spending bill, which took the Government Printing Office two days to print. McConnell’s continuing resolution would only fund the government at current funding levels through February 18, 2011.
“I want the American people to see something,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday. “I want them to see the piece of legislation Democrats dropped on us three days before Congress was expected to wrap up and go home for Christmas break.”
In recent days Republicans have expressed disgust with spending practices and vowed to reject the bill, full of more than 6,000 earmarks totaling more than $8 billion. Ironically, the same Republicans who had embraced a moratorium on earmarks, requested some of the highest pet projects in the bill.
“The hypocrisy of my Republican colleagues caught up with them tonight,” Reid said in a statement. “While publicly posturing for months against Congressionally-directed spending, many of them worked in private to secure funding for priorities in their states. And when they were exposed for trying to have it both ways, they pressured their colleagues who had previously supported this critical bill to pull their support at the last minute.”
"There is only one reason cloture is not being filed on the 2,000-page omnibus spending bill,” McConnell said. “They don't have the votes."
The abrupt turnaround came hours after Senate Republicans intended to freeze the Senate floor, forcing clerks to read aloud the omnibus spending bill.
Jim DeMint, R-S.C., pledged to object to unanimous consent, requiring the bill to be read aloud in its entirety, according to his spokesman Wesley Denton. Senate rules always require that legislation be read on the floor unless there is unanimous consent to suspend the reading of the bill.
The last time a lengthy reading took place on the Senate floor was on Dec. 19, 2009 when an amendment to the health care reform bill was up for discussion. McConnell objected and it subsequently took seven hours to read.
Earlier on Thursday, the White House urged Congress to pass the spending bill. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama would prefer a bill without earmarks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who doesn't like the earmarks either, had told the President the legislation is necessary because it contains key financing for national security.
“It's good to see lame duck brinksmanship and billions in earmarks didn't carry the day,” said Steve Ellis, vice president with Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
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