ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
With Senate Republicans uniting against a massive $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill and threatening to demand a time-consuming oral reading of the 1,924-page measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tonight elected to ditch the controversial bill.
In recent days, Republicans blasted the $8.3 billion of earmarks in the measure and vowed to force an oral reading of it on the Senate floor. That process could have taken up to 50 hours, sucking up precious time in the few remaining days before Christmas when Democrats also are trying to ratify the START treaty, repeal the military’s "don't ask, don't tell" and pass the DREAM Act immigration measure.
But with GOP senators now refusing to support the bill – Reid said nine of them changed their stance in recent days and told him they would not vote for it – Democrats tonight scrapped any plans to proceed with it.
Reid called the omnibus “a good bill, an important piece of legislation for our country,” but acknowledged that he had decided to ditch it. The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said Democrats were forced to scrap the measure because they “don’t have the votes.”
Despite ditching the bill, Reid tonight mounted a passionate defense of earmarks, hitting out at President Obama and Republicans alike just as he did earlier Thursday.
“I don’t like this grab of power – and that’s what it is – and I don’t know why people in this branch of government are willing to give that power up.”
The omnibus bill included well over 6,000 pork projects worth around $8.3 billion. According to a list of senators ranked by how much pork money they put into the bill, 20 of the top 26 slots were occupied by Democratic senators. The top 2 slots, however, both belonged to Republicans, specifically to the two GOP senators from Mississippi.
Now the Senate must find a way to pass a short-term continuing resolution – simply a stop-gap measure that continues current funding levels – before the latest one runs out on Sunday at 12:01 a.m. That is not expected to be too difficult because lawmakers already have done so on numerous occasions this year.
Republicans long have voiced support for a short-term continuing resolution over an omnibus because it would allow them to have far more power over the spending process starting in January, when they take control of the House and gain seats in the Senate.
“I’m encouraged, greatly, by the action that was taken tonight to do away with this monstrosity and go back to, maybe, a one-page continuing resolution until the new members of Congress and the new members of this body can have their voices heard,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“Did we just win?” quipped newly-elected Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.
“This may be a seminal moment in the recent history of the United States Senate,” McCain replied. “We stood up and said, ‘Enough. Stop!’”
For now, the Senate will continue to debate the START nuclear treaty with Russia. The next votes will come on Saturday morning when the chamber holds procedural votes on "don't ask, don't tell" and the DREAM Act. The Senate is expected to work all weekend, wrap up START early next week, and then head home for the holidays around next Wednesday or Thursday.