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Daunting Stack of Amendments Thrown Before Continuing Resolution in Senate

Senate leaders are trying to whittle down a daunting list of more than 90 amendments pending to a fiscal 2013 spending package. They aim to send to the House early next week a measure needed to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.

Action was taken this week on only four of the proposed amendments to the measure (HR 933), which combines five spending bills with a stopgap continuing resolution substituting for the seven unfinished annual bills. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told WHAS-TV in Louisville that he expects swift action when the Senate resumes its work, with passage Monday or Tuesday. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., clearly are trying to keep the spending package free of highly controversial measures, which could sink it in the House. There’s a particular deference to GOP concerns, with Reid on Friday noting Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will reject the measure if provisions considered to be poison pills are attached. McConnell on Friday touted what he sees as GOP win in the measure: there is no new funding for implementing the 2010 overhauls of financial services (PL 111-203) and health care (PL 111-148, PL 111-152)

“Democrats tried to plus-up funding for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank both, and they didn’t get a dime,” McConnell said. “So, there’s no new funding in there in the Senate version. I can’t guarantee there’s no funding at all in there, but there’s no new funding.”

The current continuing resolution (PL 112-175) expires March 27, and both chambers intend to be out the week of March 25 for Easter recess. That deadline had Reid exasperated with the raft of amendments submitted.

“We can’t even get senators to agree that we can get votes on amendments” Reid said late Thursday as he chided senators for seeking to include policy measures in what’s being presented as a measure carefully crafted to win bipartisan support.

Reid offered one of those policy amendments on behalf of Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., seeking with Democratic colleagues from New York and New Jersey to alter the language of the Superstorm Sandy relief package (PL 113-3) to changes the terms of aid to Amtrak. The amendment would lift a restriction in the relief package that transportation advocates say inadvertently blocked the passenger rail system from using funds appropriated in other laws to cover operating expenses.

House members have said they are on the lookout for any “poison pill” the Democratic Senate may include. Still, several House conservatives said that although they can’t comment on a bill that has not been completed, the most important thing to them is that the CR stay at the $984 billion level for discretionary spending that was set in the House-passed version.

“If the Senate sticks to $984 billion and doesn’t do anything that violates the spirit of things we believe in, then I think a deal could be done,” said Steve Scalise of Louisiana, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, on Friday. “This is something where we have laid down the marker.”

Democratic amendments largely mirror GOP riders, with most seeking to swap money between accounts within bills or give specific directions to an agency. Only a handful seek to touch on broader policy debates, such as an amendment from Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., giving a sense of the Senate statement regarding the potential cost to the federal government from climate change, a defeated Ted Cruz, R-Texas, amendment on health care funding, and an amendment from Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mark Udall, D-Colo., seeking to reconfigure the sequester.

In other cases, senators in both parties sometimes offered several similar versions of amendments, such as three measures offered by Marco Rubio, R-Fla., addressing aid to Egypt, a topic also addressed in amendments from Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.

The duplication of amendments may make it easier to whittle down the list in the days ahead, but that may not address the root issue that lawmakers want to put their own stamp on a measure that actually directs federal spending. The five spending bills in the package represent agreements worked out between House and Senate appropriators and their top staffers last year. The House had passed its version of four of five of these measures, allowing members a chance to offer amendments, and now many senators are seeking the same opportunity.

Nathan Hurst contributed to this report.

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