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Republicans Kill the Omnibus (and the Food Safety Bill Along With It)

December 17, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As things were coming together for Democrats on the tax bill in the House, the omnibus appropriations bill was falling apart in the Senate. Last night, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] announced on the Senate floor that nine Republicans who who had said they would support the bill had changed their minds and were now planning to vote against it. That left the Democrats with too few votes, and Reid with no choice but to pull the bill from the floor.

According to the Senate Democrats’ calendar, Reid’s plan is now to work with Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY] on an agreement to pass a short term continuing resolution that will keep the government funded until February or so. This will give the Republicans in the 112th Congress more power over setting spending levels and deciding which parts of the government get funding, and which don’t. That’s what this is all about. As Jamie Dupree explains, this bill has been in the works for a long time, and it has always been bipartisan:

What most people probably don’t realize is that the Omnibus bill was the product of months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee, all of which had the backing of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In other words – it was Business As Usual in the Congress.

“It was a Democratic and Republican bill,” complained Sen. Reid.

But after the results of the November elections were in – where a dominant message was that Congress was spending too much money – McConnell pulled a 180 degree turn and declared his opposition to the bill, ultimately bringing other GOP Senators along with him.

The bill even contained the exact spending level requested by the Republicans. And, as for the earmarks in the bill — the top two recipients would have been Republicans. McConnell himself had 35 earmarks in it totaling $112 million. Dave Weigel at Slate suggests that the increased openness in earmarking made it hard for Republicans to play both sides of the game here and ultimately led to the fall of the bill. “The increasing transparency of the earmark process was going to make it tougher for Republicans to support this bill and get away with it.”

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which has passed both chambers but the House is refusing to send to Obama because of a minor procedural infraction, was also included in the omnibus. Democrats say they are trying to reach an agreement with Republicans on putting it in the continuing resolution, but according to a Republican aide who spoke with The Hill, that’s not going to happen and the bill is effectively dead.

Related from NRO and NPR: more behind the scenes on how the omnibus fell. And from TPM: A Primer On The Fallout Of OmnibusFAIL.

UPDATE, 12/29/10: The food safety bill ended up being revised by the Democrats and passed on 12/21/10 in a stand-alone version as a substitute amendment to H.R.2751. It’s the same exact text as the Senate version. The bill has been cleared for the White House and will be signed into law soon.

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