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DeMint Hampers Congress’ Own Spending Bill

Congress’ own budget hit a second snag this week in its usually smooth passage through Congress, with Senate leaders debating whether a handful of GOP-sponsored amendments should be considered.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) prevented the legislative branch spending bill from moving forward Wednesday night after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to guarantee that the chamber would take up seven Republican amendments.

Now both sides are in negotiations, possibly hindering Reid’s goal of passing the bill before the July Fourth recess.

“We’re still hoping that we can consider it this week,— Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said.

But she conceded that the bill could be delayed until after the July Fourth weekend, especially if Senators spend most of this week debating the nomination of Harold Koh as State Department legal adviser.

The legislative branch spending bill funds Congressional offices and several legislative agencies, including items like staffer salaries and Members’ official expenses.

In the scheme of the bigger budget, the bill is small, totaling about $5 billion when the House and Senate versions are combined. But it also can became somewhat controversial because it is essentially Congress’ budget for itself.

Last week, the House’s version of the bill became mired in a debate about whether Members should be getting an 8 percent raise in their office budget. Republicans also criticized Democratic rules that blocked all but one amendment from being considered.

The spending bill passed after more than an hour of debate, with most Democrats voting for it and most Republicans against.

Democrats have set a goal of passing all 12 spending bills by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, and on Tuesday, Reid urged colleagues to allow the legislative branch bill to pass quickly by unanimous consent.

DeMint’s objection prohibited that quick passage, but on Wednesday, the South Carolina Republican insisted he didn’t want to hold up the appropriations process. He was waiting to hear back from the majority on the amendments, he said.

“If they see a couple of things that give them heartburn, we’ll work with them on that,— DeMint said.

The amendments in question would rescind unspent stimulus funds, direct the Government Accountability Office to audit the Federal Reserve and make Senate expenses more transparent, among other things.

An amendment from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) would stop Members’ automatic pay increases — and is identical to a bill that unanimously passed the Senate in March.

But it’s unlikely Reid would agree to offer it for consideration. For years, Members have agreed to not bring up such a bill because of the political pressure to vote for it.

In March, the bill passed only after Vitter tried to attach it as an amendment to the fiscal 2009 omnibus. By offering an identical stand-alone bill, Reid gave Democrats cover to not vote for Vitter’s amendment.

It has since stalled in the House, with leaders declining to bring it to the floor. Since then, Vitter and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) have tried to get House colleagues to push for its consideration, but to no avail.

By attaching it to the legislative branch appropriations bill, Vitter hopes to force Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) hand.

“He wants to try to pass it again through a must-pass bill so the Speaker has to take another look at it,— Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado said.

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