May 15 2012
By Kerry Young and Niels Lesniewski
Senate leaders next month may begin to answer demands from lawmakers for more floor debate on spending bills.
The chamber may take up its first stand-alone fiscal 2013 spending bill in June, Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., the chairwoman of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, said Tuesday. She expects her bill (S 2323) to reach the floor shortly after the Senate returns from its Memorial Day break.
“We anticipate it will be either the first or second week that we’re back after the recess,” she said.
Top Senate leaders have spoken this year of the need for the chamber to get back into the habit of bringing many of the 12 annual spending bills to the floor instead of relying heavily on sprawling measures combining several appropriations bills at the end of the year. The Senate has brought only one individual spending bill to the floor since 2010.
Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spent much of their careers as appropriators before rising to their current posts. Congressional leaders often prefer to combine many appropriations measures into a single bill because it can speed along the floor action. But some members complain that catchall measures, such as the two packages used to complete the current year’s appropriations, can limit their opportunities to offer amendments. Such measures also may be compiled using a bill that has passed only through the House, so lawmakers must cope with a conference report for unfamiliar bills that otherwise never reached the floor.
Still, it’s unclear how many bills the Senate and the House might consider as stand-alone measures before the new budget year begins Oct. 1.
Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that he hoped to bring the C-J-S spending bill up before the Memorial Day recess. There is a backlog of items on the Senate’s to-do list, however, so Mikulski’s timeline may be more realistic.
Reid said that the Senate also plans to turn to legislation to reauthorize prescription-drug user fees (S 2516) and a package of small-business tax breaks (S 2237) in coming weeks.
Congress is unlikely to clear many, or perhaps any, stand-alone appropriations bills this year, and likely will again resort to combining several bills to finish this work. But it is still important to get as many bills as possible to the Senate floor, said Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“It gives senators the opportunity to offer changes” that may later be incorporated in a multi-bill package, Cochran said
In the House, members used an open rule on their fiscal 2013 Commerce-Justice-Science bill (HR 5326), with 40 roll-call votes taken on amendments before the chamber passed it on May 10. Republicans offered 33 of those compared to seven from Democrats. House leaders and appropriators have been trying, without much success, to persuade members to pare back amendments.