House budget process reverts to business as usualby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
WASHINGTON — When Republicans took control of the U.S. House in January, they vowed to end the long-standing tradition of bundling spending bills together into what are called omnibus packages. Instead, the GOP promised a return to "regular order" where each bill would be considered at a measured pace and on its own merits, and unrelated policy provisions wouldn't be attached to must-pass legislation.
On Friday, many House Republicans will break those pledges when they vote on a $1 trillion spending measure chock-full of policy riders that few members will have had time to read thoroughly.
"Even though I hate omnibuses because they are large and because they can get loaded up with stuff, the good thing [about this bill] is there aren't any earmarks in it, and it reduces spending," Minnesota Republican John Kline said.
"My preference would obviously be to have items be broken up and done separately," said fellow Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen, who noted that the House had at least voted on some of the spending bills separately over the summer.
Kline conceded that time had run out this year and that Congress needed to pass a longer-term spending bill after passing seven short-term measures this year. This bill runs through Sept. 30 of next year.
"I think it's important we do this rather than keep doing these continuing resolutions," Kline said.
The most controversial policy provision in the year-end legislation would overturn a White House move to delay a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline that connects Canada's oil sands to American refineries. That rider was attached to a GOP-backed bill that also extends the payroll tax cut that's a key Obama Administration priority. Obama and his congressional allies had been using the payroll tax extension as a cudgel to beat up on Republicans, who had been lukewarm about the measure. The pipeline measure, abhorred by environmentalists, is the GOP's revenge.
"This is what some of these tea party guys are finding out is that however you feel about the Keystone pipeline, does it really belong on this bill, must pass legislation?" DFL Rep. Tim Walz said earlier this week. "It's a little frustrating."
Walz ultimately voted for the Republicans' payroll tax measure with the pipeline measure, one of just 10 Democrats to break ranks with the party.
University of Minnesota political scientist Kathryn Pearson said despite the GOP's best intentions to move back towards individual spending bills, it often takes an atmosphere of crisis on Capitol to get legislation passed.
"It's not a good way to govern but the threat of shutdown or default or something terrible is often what gets leaders to get their members to take tough votes," Pearson said.