The Senate has dropped an omnibus spending package despite DOD boss Robert Gates' appeals.
—Amy McCullough and Michael C. Sirak
Dec. 17, 2010—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late Thursday announced that he was dropping his plans to push a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package for Fiscal 2011 through the Senate that included $667.7 billion in appropriations for the Defense Department.
Reid's move came after Republican Senators withdrew their support for the bill, saying billions of dollars in earmarks were unacceptable.
Instead, Reid said he would focus his efforts for the remainder of the lame-duck session on winning approval for another continuing resolution to keep the flow of money going to DOD and additional federal government agencies in this fiscal year in the absence of completed appropriations bills for each organization. The current continuing resolution expires Saturday.
The House on Dec. 8 approved its version of a continuing resolution for the rest of Fiscal 2011.
Reid's move came despite appeals by Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week to approve the omnibus legislation instead of settling on a continuing resolution.
"The omnibus is not great, but it beats a year-long continuing resolution," said Gates Thursday during a White House briefing. In fact, he called the continuing resolution "the worst of all possible worlds" for DOD.
"First of all, it’s a $19 billion cut in the budget" he explained. He continued, "We have very little flexibility to move money around the Pentagon budget without getting Congressional approval for reprogrammings, which is always a complicated and time-consuming process."
Further, he added, DOD would have "no flexibility in starting any new programs, such as funding for [US] Cyber Command."
Plus, the omnibus would have supported increased special operations forces and provided greater funding for military families, said Gates in a statement released by the Pentagon Wednesday.
Gates said he was willing to live with the imperfections of the omnibus, such as the $450 million in funding it included for the F136, the competing F-35 strike fighter engine. Gates wants to terminate work on this engine and during budget deliberations earlier this year, he made repeated threats to recommend that President Obama veto any legislation containing F136 funding.
"I consider the second engine the poster child of earmarks. But what I have to look at is the alternative to the omnibus," stated Gates Thursday.
GOP Senators had not been alone in their opposition to the omnibus.
House Speaker-designate Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) had urged Obama to veto the legislation, saying taxpayers were fed up with such "reckless spending decisions."
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