Senate minority leader effectively scuttles omnibus plan

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has effectively killed any hopes of passing an omnibus appropriations bill in the lame duck, announcing Thursday that he is opposed to such a measure. Congress will be forced to keep the government operating through a continuing resolution.

"If this election showed us anything, it's that Americans don't want Congress passing massive trillion-dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors," McConnell said in a floor speech Thursday. "They want us to do business differently. So I won't be supporting an omnibus spending bill."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said Wednesday that he expected a decision Thursday on whether Democrats would try to pass a complete omnibus for the rest of the fiscal year, or what is likely to be a shorter-term continuing resolution that freezes federal funding at fiscal 2010 levels. But McConnell's announcement signals a lack of GOP support for that course in the Senate, meaning Democrats will likely have to settle on a continuing resolution. Language for such a bill is being drafted by House and Senate appropriators, aides have said.

"It looks like it's just a CR at this stage," said California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of Appropriations' interior and environment subcommittee, on Wednesday.

Some lobbyists and Democrats had seen McConnell as a potential ally in pushing an omnibus funding bill, arguing he would want to "clear the decks" to avoid his party splitting in an appropriations fight early next year. But Republicans already effectively crossed that bridge when they agreed to a resolution banning earmarks in the next Congress.

Senators and aides said the length of the CR, which may last a month and punt funding decisions into the start of the next Congress, remains to be set. Also undetermined is what measures Democrats may attempt to attach to the bill as riders. While Republicans have signaled a preference that the bill be "clean," without added provisions, Democrats could attach provisions like a short extension of a patch to prevent physicians from seeing a cut in Medicare payments -- the so-called "doc fix" -- and an extension of unemployment benefits.

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said Thursday morning he did not yet know of McConnell's opposition to an omnibus. Cochran said he was on his way to a meeting with McConnell to discuss the subject.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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