House Dems consider two-part omnibus plan for endgame

House Democratic leaders are considering a two-part omnibus plan to wrap work on the remaining seven fiscal 2010 appropriations bills before the continuing resolution expires Dec. 18, senior House Democratic and Republican aides said on Thursday.

One Democratic aide stressed that, "Nothing is finalized, and we are not likely to vote on [appropriations] bills next week."

When asked about the spending bills Thursday in his colloquy with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said only that he hopes to have all of them done in two weeks.

However, action on the omnibus could possibly come next week as House Appropriations staffers have been told to be ready to go to the floor if needed, a senior Republican aide said.

The Democratic aide said the plan being discussed would include six appropriations bills in the first part, all except the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill. It might also include jobs-related items, and a short-term extension of the PATRIOT Act, as well as legislation to prevent a 21 percent reimbursement cut for physicians who participate in Medicare that is set to take effect in January.

That package would hitch a ride on the final version of either the fiscal 2010 Military Construction-VA bill, the fiscal 2010 Transportation-HUD bill, or the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which have been approved by both chambers and are waiting for final approval by House and Senate negotiators.

Democratic leaders are exploring using between $60 billion and $70 billion from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to offset the cost of jobs legislation, according to a Democratic aide.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut said Democratic leaders were weighing whether to use an appropriations conference report to carry jobs creation legislation, but said no decision had been made.

The second part would use the final version of the fiscal 2010 Defense bill as a legislative vehicle, possibly containing a debt limit increase. Another item that might hitch a ride as part of the omnibus package is legislation to set estate tax rates. Senate leadership aides said the plan is under discussion, though a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said no final decisions have been made.

To date, only five of the 12 annual appropriations bills have been signed into law by President Obama.

If House Democrats pass such a package, then the Senate would need to take it up, which would require the chamber to set aside the debate on healthcare legislation. Conference reports are privileged and do not need consent to be taken up by the Senate, but Senate Democratic leaders might need 60 votes to end debate on an omnibus. They would also likely need 60 votes to waive a Senate rule requiring that items in the conference report were in the House or Senate-passed version.

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., has said he intends to raise a point of order against legislation that contains a debt limit increase.

Gregg, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and about 12 other Senators have pledged to oppose a debt limit increase unless Senate Democratic leaders agree to try to establish a commission that would make recommendations to reduce the deficit.

Conrad Thursday reiterated his commitment to his position. He said he has had recent discussions on it with OMB Director Peter Orszag and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and met with Reid Wednesday evening.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., a part of the budget hawk group, said he would need a vote on commission legislation "or something like that, something more than a meaningless promise of future action, we've had enough of that. ... There are rare opportunities when you actually have leverage to do something ... and this is one of them."

Meanwhile, in the wake of the White House jobs summit Thursday, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and 20 other lawmakers signed a letter to Obama in favor of including a Buy American provision in jobs legislation.

"To maximize the benefit of such policies for American workers, we urge you to include strong and effective 'Buy American' and domestic sourcing requirements in any legislative proposals developed by your administration in response to this jobs forum," the letter said.

The letter comes as House Republicans are preparing to release a report on the $787 billion economic stimulus enacted in February, which will claim that only 12 percent of the roughly $280 billion in discretionary funding has been spent to date, according to a House Republican aide. The aide added that Democrats should be looking to the unspent stimulus funds as they contemplate billions of dollars in jobs programs.

Dan Friedman contributed to this story.

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