Senate majority leader sees action on omnibus by March 6 deadline

The House is expected to take up the package on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats are pressing to approve the $410 billion omnibus spending bill by late next week to beat the March 6 deadline when the current continuing resolution expires.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Tuesday he would push the Senate to take up the omnibus as soon as the House passes the bill, which is expected this week.

"We really have to get off this legislation as soon as we can, because a week from Friday the funding for the government runs out," Reid said in remarks on the Senate floor.

He added he wants to allow members to offer amendments on the omnibus, unveiled by House Democrats on Monday, provided they "recognize the deadline we have next Friday."

The House is expected to take up the omnibus on Wednesday, House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said this morning. Her committee met this afternoon to consider the rule for the bill. The package consists of the nine fiscal 2009 appropriations bills that Congress has not yet passed. Three appropriations bills -- Defense, Military Construction-VA and Homeland Security -- were fully funded in late September as part of the continuing resolution that is funding the nine unfinished bills at fiscal 2008 levels. But House Republicans have been pressing for an extension of the current omnibus at fiscal 2008 levels.

The federal government "can get by at last year's levels" and save $30 billion to $40 billion, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a briefing on Tuesday. House Republicans appear to be whipping their rank-and-file to oppose the omnibus. GOP sources said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., pushed Republican lawmakers to vote against the spending package in a closed-door meeting of the Conference this morning, arguing that Republicans should not be bribed by earmarks in the "reckless" package in return for backing the bill.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday countered GOP arguments about overspending, arguing that the measure is within the budget limits approved by Congress last year. He added that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in January the bill has already been vetted by Democrats and Republicans and could easily pass.

Boehner and other Republicans have taken issue with the bill's earmarks, but the top House Republican would not say on Tuesday whether he asked Republicans to hold off on requesting projects, noting only that members were sent a list of standards to hold themselves to. Boehner said he expects a report next week from an earmark-reform panel, headed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., which he established in December. "We need to determine what is an earmark and what is not," he said, adding that a CR with no earmarks "is the most responsible way to go."

Andy Leonatti contributed to this report.