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Senate Leaders Lock on Bipartisan Momentum

Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to build on today’s expected passage of a bipartisan jobs bill by moving to take up a second package of three spending bills.

“Folks on both sides felt the last appropriations bills went well,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday, adding that the bipartisan legislation currently on the floor has helped build goodwill.

Senate Democrats plan to set up a procedural vote today on taking up the second minibus, which will include the State and foreign operations appropriations bill; the financial services and general government appropriations bill; and the Energy and water development appropriations bill.

“My impression is that most of my colleagues are interested in proceeding to have a debate and offer amendments … so I would expect that cloture would be granted,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

Moran said he expects a host of amendments to be offered on his bill because it funds the IRS. Republicans in the past have targeted the agency as a way of blocking enforcement of the health care law, which requires citizens to get health insurance or face IRS penalties.

The minibus bill also covers agencies that are implementing the financial industry reform law, which Republicans have criticized heavily.

Democrats hope to hold votes on as many amendments as possible, within reason, similar to the process for clearing the first minibus earlier this month. They also hope Republicans will approach the bill in the same spirit.

Republicans believe the current bipartisan stretch is long overdue and is something they have been increasingly calling for in recent weeks.

“Democrats may be finally getting the message that bills designed to fail won’t create jobs,” a Senate Republican leadership aide said.

Republicans have been critical of Democrats who, after failing to win GOP support for President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs package, have sought to bring up pieces of the measure paired with taxes on millionaires to offset their costs.

Republicans oppose the offsets because they believe the taxes would hurt small businesses and job creation. The GOP contends it’s an effort geared more toward making Republicans look like obstructionists rather than legislating.

The Senate Democratic aide disagreed. “The only thing that makes Republicans look like obstructionists is their obstructionism,” the aide said.

That aide cited two Democratic efforts in recent weeks to pass a proposal to provide $35 billion to hire teachers and first responders and $60 billion for infrastructure projects, both pieces of Obama’s jobs bill that were offset with new taxes on millionaires and opposed by Republicans.

The aide suggested that Republicans only opposed the bills because Obama supports them and they want to deny him a political victory as part of their effort to defeat him in the 2012 election.

The Senate is poised to pass legislation today that would repeal a law requiring federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of nearly all contract payments beginning in 2013.

The bill is also expected to be a vehicle for an amendment that would provide tax incentives for hiring unemployed veterans.

The GOP-led House has passed similar legislation this year, and House and Senate Republicans have been coordinating their message, calling on Senate Democrats to pass a series of other House-passed measures.

“The Democratic majority finally agreed to join us in making some progress in the nearly two dozen bipartisan jobs bills the House has already passed,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “And I want to urge them to keep pressing ahead with jobs bills that both parties actually support.”

The appropriations package will be the second minibus considered by the Senate. Earlier this month, the chamber passed a package that included the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill; the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill; and the Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration appropriations bill.

A conference committee is working out differences between the House and Senate versions of those three bills. A compromise package will likely be on the House and Senate floors as soon as next week, according to Congressional aides.

“I’ve heard the conference is going well,” the Senate Democratic aide said. However, the aide warned that if House Republicans choose to push for unreasonable policy riders, that could “throw a monkey wrench” into the appropriations process.

A House GOP aide said that several issues are still being negotiated, including policy riders.

The compromise package is also expected to carry a continuing resolution that would likely keep the government funded through the week of Dec. 12, but no firm decisions have been made, aides said. Congress has until Nov. 18, when the current CR expires, to act on the next stopgap spending measure.

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