WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned their efforts to approve a comprehensive funding bill for the federal government after Republicans rebelled against its $1.2 trillion cost and the inclusion of nearly 7,000 line-item projects for individual lawmakers.
After a day of back-room negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that he could not overcome a Republican filibuster after GOP senators turned their backs on billions of dollars of so-called earmarks they had sought in the bill.
Instead, a slimmed-down resolution that would fund the federal government mostly at current levels will come before the Senate, and Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it would pass by Saturday.
Reid said the Senate would then return to three other Democratic priorities — a repeal of the prohibition against gays serving openly in the military, a "DREAM Act" to benefit children of illegal immigrants, and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
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The majority leader's surrender on the massive spending bill marked a final rebuke for this Congress to the old-school system of funding the federal government, in which the powerful barons of the appropriations committee decided which states would be blessed with tens of millions of dollars each year.
McConnell, a member of the appropriations panel, had long championed his own earmarks to the Bluegrass State until last month. But he mounted a furious, and ultimately successful, effort to reject the omnibus legislation, persuading up to nine Republicans who had considered supporting the bill to turn against it.
"In the last 24 hours they've walked away from me," Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday night. The turnabout left the Senate leader short of the 60 votes he would eventually need to overcome a filibuster.
Before McConnell had locked down all 42 Republicans, he was threatening to force the reading of the entire 1,924-page bill as a delaying tactic.