Omnibus bill's hidden item: a Democratic rift
On Tuesday, Congress passed the spending bill to keep the government running - 160 days late, and not without some unusual friction between House and Senate leaders.
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But the omnibus spending package – 160 days overdue – also highlights unexpected rifts between Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, hinting at an unresolved power play already seeping into the next budget cycle.
Last year, Congress delayed voting on 9 of 12 spending bills, thinking it would be easier to reach a consensus this year – with Democrats now holding a larger majority in both houses of Congress.
Yet it remained a tough slog for the bill, which has been criticized as filled with pork. Along with some 8,500 member projects, the bill raises spending for many agencies some 10 percent above 2008 levels.
In an unusual move, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last Thursday said that she would not accept any changes or amendments to the omnibus bill that passed in the House on Feb. 25.
This was in response to the clout of three GOP senators, whose votes were critical to get to the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster on last month's $787 billion economic stimulus bill. Along with a handful of Democrat centrists, they forced significant changes in the House version of the bill.
This was, in some ways, typical. The Senate often forces the House to accept the Senate’s version of a bill. But on the omnibus bill, Representative Pelosi reversed Congress’s historic pecking order – and Senate majority leader Harry Reid with apparent reluctance permitted it.
As the Senate debated whether to change the House bill and eliminate an automatic pay raise for Congress, Senator Reid cautioned that the House would not accept any amendments from the Senate: “There aren’t going to be any limits on this bill that I can get through the House,” he said.
The moment marked a sharp break with tradition. “It’s hard to think of a comparable moment like this,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “The tension between the two chambers is becoming very strong, especially the Pelosi-Reid rivalry.”