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September 2, 2015

Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus

Mikukski spoke Mondat at Penn Station in Baltimore about transportation issues. (Niels Lesniewski/ CQ Roll Call)

Mikulski details her plans about transportation funding issues at Baltimore’s Penn Station. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

BALTIMORE, Md. — When the Senate returns next month, the chamber’s top appropriator is planning one more push at an omnibus, even if it’s a serious long shot.

Speaking at an event to laud the enactment of a stopgap measure to provide about $11 billion to replenish the Highway Trust Fund and avert construction layoffs, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., outlined an effort to use the fiscal 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill as the vehicle for a catchall package, rather than a continuing resolution.

RollCall-On-the-Road-Logo(300x300)“When we come back in September, I’m going to make another effort to get us to an omnibus. I believe, now that we’ve passed the groundbreaking bill to look out for veterans’ health care, that’s a long range bill, but right now we have money for fiscal ’15 that would enable us to move VA medical care,” Mikulski said at Baltimore’s Penn Station. “And that would be the little engine that could that would help me move to an omnibus.”

With members of Congress likely eager to escape Washington as quickly as possible next month with elections looming, and the Senate expected to only work for about two weeks, Mikulski’s effort seems unlikely to get much traction. It’s always the desire of appropriators to avoid short-term measures, but Mikulski’s House counterpart Harold Rogers has conceded it’s likely to be inevitable.

“We’ve only got two weeks in September — we’ve got to pass a CR and it’ll be a crowded schedule in September,” the Kentucky Republican recently told CQ Roll Call. “I’d like to, but I don’t see a realistic way to get that done.”

The most likely scenario seems to be for a CR to carry the government through the midterm elections and into a lame duck, perhaps until mid-December.

There’s no reason to think that any effort to move a catchall spending bill in the Senate would go any better than previous efforts, which have been derailed with Republicans complaining about Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., locking down the floor and blocking amendments.

Mikulski said she thought perpetual extensions and stopgap funding bills contributed to delays in the big rail infrastructure project highlighted at Monday’s event — the old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. She also cited issues with the bureaucracy and delays in getting relevant nominees confirmed by the Senate, part of the much broader backlog, as part of the problem.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., who appeared with Mikulski, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and state and federal transportation officials, said $60 million was provided to study replacing the antiquated tunnel complex back in 2008.

“We would not use 19th century technology in our offices or our homes, and we should not be having it with regard to our rail system. As I’ve said many times on the floor of the House, we’re better than that. We’re a better country than that,” Cummings said. “We can no longer afford short-term solutions for long-term problems.”

Cummings praised Mikulski, the dean of the Maryland delegation, for her work on the spending issues.

“In this time of austerity, I’m so glad that we have a giant heading Appropriations in the Senate, with Sen. Mikulski. She makes a way out of no way,” Cummings said. “She finds to find a way to open the door to the funding that we need.”

Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.
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