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Senate GOP Threatens Filibuster Over Budget

Senate Democrats and Republicans are headed for a classic game of chicken this week over the nine remaining fiscal 2007 appropriations bills.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is poised to bring up a joint funding resolution for 13 Cabinet agencies, Congress and numerous independent agencies as early as today, but he has said repeatedly that he will not permit any Senators to offer amendments to the measure.

That stance has prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to threaten a Republican filibuster, and both sides are waiting to see who will blink before a possible government shutdown upon the expiration of the current continuing resolution on Feb. 15.

“At some point you get to Feb. 15 and something has to give,” said Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Cochran added that Republicans are likely to call Reid’s bluff and oppose his expected efforts to cut off debate, or invoke cloture, on the $463 billion measure. Reid would need 60 votes to prevail on cloture and move the funding resolution toward passage.

“I don’t think they can get cloture,” Cochran said. “We’ll be protesting the process.”

The Senate could vote as early as Thursday on a procedural motion to limit debate on the motion to proceed to the bill. Even if Senators are allowed to proceed to the bill, Republicans indicated that they would require Reid to file another cloture motion on the bill itself. The whole process could bring the Senate dangerously close to the Feb. 15 deadline.

However, Democrats could try to avoid a government shutdown by pushing another short-term continuing resolution in lieu of the larger joint funding resolution that would cover all eight months left in fiscal 2007. A continuing resolution, however, would keep funding at 2006 levels or lower, whereas the joint funding resolution would provide some government agencies with small boosts in funding.

The House already has passed the fiscal 2007 joint funding resolution, and Senate passage without amendment would send the bill directly to the president. Congress already approved fiscal 2007 funding for the Defense and Homeland Security departments last year.

Before Congress resorts to short-term measures, however, Reid said he would move to use Senate procedures to block all amendments, because Republicans already have vetted the bill.

“In getting to the point where we are, there’s been total consultation by the majority and minority” on the Appropriations Committee, Reid said on the floor Tuesday. “If there were ever a bipartisan measure, it’s the [joint funding] resolution.”

But Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) said Reid’s statements are “not a fair argument for abridging the rights of Senators to offer amendments.”

And Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a member of the Appropriations panel, said, “There’s a lot more people in this Congress than just the Appropriations subcommittee chairmen” and ranking members. Gregg added that Republicans are looking to offer only two or three amendments.

“It seems to me that you don’t have to bring it up and close down debate,” he said. “We know it’s got to be done … on a timely basis. But to bring a $463 billion bill to the floor without amendments would be unprecedented. That’s never happened before.”

One of the amendments Republicans would like to offer is a restoration of cuts to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission funding, which was used as a way to address shortfalls in veterans’ medical care accounts.

But Appropriations Committee member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said Republicans are trying to have it both ways, considering they had an opportunity last year to pass full BRAC funding in the fiscal 2007 military construction spending bill only to see it blocked by members of their own Republican Conference.

“That was an example of a bill that was held up by Republicans. So to come back and say we want a do-over is a real challenge,” Reed said.

What’s more, Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) wants to restore funding for BRAC later this year as part of a nearly $100 billion emergency war spending bill.

“Senator Byrd has every intention to work to make BRAC funding whole in the supplemental appropriations bill,” said Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin.

In the meantime, Gavin said the Pentagon has $2.5 billion available for BRAC, which is “certainly enough to begin the [BRAC] process.”

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