Senate Democrats (and all other Democrats, for that matter) have not passed a budget for over 900 days, yet they are planning to come late to the game and commandeer the appropriations process. After delaying the process for over two years, Harry Reid, with the help of some Senate Republicans, is planning to expedite appropriations bills in a way that disavows standard procedures of transparency. House Republicans must rebuff this insidious plan.
When Republicans assumed control of the House earlier this year, they completed the job that Democrats refused to do regarding the FY 2011 budget. Additionally, they passed a concurrent budget resolution for FY 2012, and proceeded to complete half of the 12 annual appropriations bills. When it became clear that Senate Democrats were dithering with roll call votes and speeches, and had no intention of even passing a budget resolution, Republicans held back the remaining approps bills, in an effort to wait for the Senate to get its act together.
Now, instead of coming to the table and passing the 12 individual appropriations bills along with a budget resolution, Harry Reid is seeking to circumvent the process by using "Minibus" bills. He rightfully perceives that a 12-bill omnibus package would be politically unpopular, so he is planning to bundle the 12 appropriations bill into four minibus bills, containing three spending bills apiece.
Why does Reid want to use this awkward and obscure process for appropriations bills?
If Reid were to send over individual bills to the House, Republicans would be able to alter the bills that were not already passed by the House through the regular amendment process. Instead, he plans to use the Agriculture appropriations bill –a bill that has already passed the House – as a vehicle to carry his first minibus bill, containing the Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD bills as well. This will allow Senate Democrats to control the content of extraneous unrelated bills and force the House to vote on them without amendments. They will be deemed as conference reports (because the Ag part was already passed by the House), precluding Republicans from stripping out pernicious spending and policy initiatives, even on separate spending spheres that the House has not considered yet.
Here is how it is explained by CQ:
The decision by Senate leaders to move fiscal 2012 appropriations through a series of “«minibus»” packages rather than an omnibus promises to expedite the process while also strengthening the chamber’s hand in negotiations with the House.
Although House Appropriations staff members are looking at how compromise versions of the Senate spending packages could be quickly assembled, some conservative House Republicans are already balking at the idea of clearing final spending bills as conference reports not subject to amendments on the floor. [...]
By passing and sending to conference appropriations packages carrying bills the House has not considered as stand-alone measures, the Senate will have the advantage in negotiations, since it will have established a position on spending issues on which the House has not acted.
So the guys who refused to do their budget homework over the past two years will now have the advantage of unilaterally controlling the process that they callously disregarded!
By now, you might be pondering the obvious question: how can Harry Reid unilaterally force the House to accept bundled pork in a conference report?
Answer: he can't. He is getting help from his Republican counterparts.
As the CQ story indicates, Mitch McConnell and his friends are in a rush to complete the FY2012 spending bills. As such, he is willing to give Reid the keys to the house. But, fear not, Reid is allowing Senate Republicans a chance to offer amendments to the minibus bills:
So far, the Senate strategy has been a bipartisan exercise. Reid has won significant support from Republicans for the first «minibus» by allowing about two dozen senators to offer amendments. Maintaining that relatively open process as the other spending packages are considered will be crucial to winning enough GOP support to move them through the Senate.
However, there is one problem with this deal. Republicans are relinquishing their opportunity to offer amendments in the majority-controlled House, in lieu of the chance to offer amendments that will invariably be defeated in the Senate.
It is astounding that Republicans are so obsequious to Reid just a few weeks after Reid pulled the nuclear option, barring Republicans from offering amendments without his permissions. So much for the promises to shut down the Senate.
While Senate Republicans are caving to Reid's power grab, there is no reason for House Republicans to follow suit. They must reject any bundled appropriations bills that thwart the amendment process and undermine House priorities. Although the topline discretionary spending figure is already locked in at $1.043 trillion, as a result of the debt ceiling deal, there are still many important policy issues that must be solved, especially regarding health, labor, and the environment.
Moreover, while the overall spending figure is already fixed, the individual spending levels have not been determined. Why not? Well, the Senate has never passed a budget yet. Republicans must refuse to be held hostage by those who never passed a budget, yet hypocritically seek to manipulate the process late in the game.