COMPASS: The Omnibus Approaches

February 7th, 2022

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

The House and Senate are both in town this week. The House takes up a series of bills, including a bill to reform the postal service which will offload the retirement responsibilities of current postal service employees to Medicare.

The Senate returns to confirm a series of nominees while awaiting a Supreme Court nomination from the White House. Senate Republicans are reportedly divided on how hard to oppose the forthcoming SCOTUS nominee.

Both chambers are expected to approve a short-term continuing resolution this week ahead of federal funding expiring on February 18th. Congressional appropriators appear to be going for broke in their attempts to craft a massive, multi-trillion dollar omnibus deal, rather than a series of CRs which would continue Trump-era spending policies.

This is in no small part because the Senate’s top two appropriators, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) are retiring. These two “old bulls” have served a combined 82 years in the Senate (35 of them together), and want to go out on a high note.

More from Politico:

Leahy is a longtime liberal and the only Democrat ever elected to the Senate from Vermont, while Shelby’s conservative views were so out of step with his former party that he defected from the Democrats in 1994. They and their wives enjoy close friendships, and the two have cemented their bond by traveling the world side-by-side and spending hours on end together.

Asked about their relationship, Leahy proudly noted that he’d taken Shelby along for a wild Cuban ride 10 years ago: “I arranged for him to be the second government official to meet with Raúl Castro, after I was the first. I insisted Shelby come too.”

Shelby and Leahy both ground through decades on the Appropriations Committee to take the positions once held by the late, and vaunted, Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Each built sway in Congress, with Leahy now serving as Senate pro tempore and overseeing huge amounts of prime office space in the Capitol. And neither act chained to a particular ideology when it comes to cutting deals involving hundreds of billions of dollars.

“They both like to spend money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Shelby is “a master negotiator… I’ve watched him buy rugs over in the Middle East. He’s really good.”

Conservatives must now determine what’s in their interest. Spending deadlines (and the threat of a shutdown, should they not be met) come with considerable leverage for policy demands. Most have not opposed continuing resolutions, which simply extend spending terms negotiated under the Trump administration. 

But a bipartisan omnibus bill will be a longer authorization, and much, much larger in scope with fiscal policies covering everything from abortion, climate change, military spending, border security, further COVID protocols, and much else.

Any omnibus completed before the February deadline – or after, if more short-term CRs are added to the pile – will require some conservative buy-in, particularly in the Senate. What will conservatives ask for, and how will they leverage it? 

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One More Thing…

Check out CPI senior fellow Cleta Mitchell’s latest podcast, “Who’s Counting,” where she interviews Pennsylvania state Rep. Seth Grove about his efforts to reform the state’s election laws.