The stakes in the showdown between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) continue to go higher. Congress must pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government within two weeks, by October first, or face a shutdown in a precarious time.
Coburn is holding up passage of a bundle of broadly supported bills that Reid wants to see passed before the session adjourns, arguing that new spending isn't offset or that the bills duplicate efforts already underway. Reid has tried to move the package – known as the Tomnibus or the Coburn Omnibus – in recent months but has been thwarted by Coburn, who was able to persuade enough of his Senate Republican colleagues to oppose the move.
But Reid has a powerful weapon in his arsenal: He can bring up the Coburn Omnibus before getting to the CR. And that’s just what he plans to do. “We have been planning to do Coburn before the CR for a week,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley in an e-mail. Next week will be taken up mostly by an energy-tax-extenders bill and work on the Wall Street rescue package. October first comes on the Wednesday during the week after.
Coburn would then be forced to choose between caving in and tying the Senate in knots--which would shutdown the government if the CR couldn’t come up for a vote by the deadline. A government shutdown, however, is unlikely in the extreme given the perilous financial situation. Indeed, world markets rebounded today on faith that the U.S. government was riding over the hills to the rescue -- not an ideal time for it to shut down, to say the least. In order to avert it, then, Reid could pull the package if it appeared Coburn wasn’t blinking – or Coburn could acquiesce if it seemed that Reid would take it all the way.
Coburn, for his part, looks forward to the fight. "Dr. Coburn would be happy to debate why we need to shut down the government to protect chimps and botanical gardens," said Coburn aide John Hart, referring to some of the bills in the package.