Shutdown Showdown: Congress needs to agree on a way to fund the government by Saturday

Chris Moody Contributor
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There is little Christmas cheer on Capitol Hill this week, as Republicans and Democrats prepare for another showdown, this time involving a $1.1 trillion Omnibus spending bill loaded to the brim with pork that would keep the government funded until the next fiscal year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he intends to put the bill to a vote before Congress adjourns. Republicans countered that there is not enough time for sufficient debate on such a massive bill, and proposed that Congress pass a temporary Continuing Resolution that will keep the government funded until February instead.

So far, neither side has budged. With just four days left until the last temporary funding patch expires, the federal government will shut down if Congress cannot come to an agreement by Saturday.

Oh, it gets better.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint has demanded that the entire 1,924 page bill be read aloud on the Senate floor. That means Reid cannot file for cloture on the measure until at least Thursday, which puts the first available time the Senate can vote on the bill back to — you guessed it — Saturday.

It’s a classic game of congressional chicken.

Somehow, Congress will need to find a way to fund the government after Saturday. Democrats want it to be through the Omnibus package. Republicans want another stop-gap. Someone will have to blink.

“Nobody’s talking about shutting down the government,” insisted Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn when pressed about the dire possible consequences of this particular fight.

It was clear from the beginning that Reid’s decision to introduce the bill this week would spark a fresh battle. Republicans immediately came out swinging the minute they had a chance to slam the proposal.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the move a “legislative slap in the face” to voters and “one of the worst abuses of the process yet.”

“This is an outrage,” Cornyn said Wednesday. “I can’t think of any other action that could show such profound disrespect for the American people and what they said on November 2nd, then to try to jam through this omnibus appropriation bill that we saw for the first time yesterday.”

“We had all year to do this,” complained Republican South Dakota Sen. John Thune. “This is a failure on the part of the Democrat leadership to manage this place.”

Reid spokesman Jim Manley shot back at Republicans, pointing out that the they had ample opportunity to contribute to the bill.

And contribute they did. Cornyn and Thune alone inserted more than 70 earmarks combined that made it into the package.

“I’m sure they won’t hesitate to claim credit for earmarks in their own states, attending as many ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies as they can,” Manley said in a statement Tuesday. “Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.”

In total, the 6,488 earmarks that both Democrats and Republicans put into the bill would cost around $8.3 billion. House and Senate Republicans both voted to slap a non-binding moratorium on earmark spending in November, but not before loading the Omnibus bill with pork for their districts.

When asked how they could justify their old ways, Thune, Cornyn and McConnell all said that they intended to vote against the bill that contained their pork and start fresh next year with an earmark-free measure.

From a Republican standpoint, the party would do well to push the debate into 2011. The GOP will have a majority in the House and an increased presence in the Senate. It would give them a chance to sweep away those unsightly earmarks they inserted earlier this year. Perhaps, most important to Republicans, they would use their new found strength to try and eliminate the $1.25 billion in the package set aside to fund the health care law.

“For those of us who’ve vowed to repeal it, this alone is reason to oppose the Omnibus,” McConnell said.

From a Democratic standpoint, it is little wonder why Reid wants it done now.

Either way, no one wants to be the one responsible for shutting off the lights on the congressional Christmas Tree early this year.

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