This week, the Senate worked on a “minibus” appropriations bill to fund spending on agriculture, commerce, trade, justice, transportation and housing — and it appears the bill is headed for final passage when the Senate returns next month.

The Senate giving floor time to appropriations bills during appropriations season? Technically, that’s nothing unusual. In fact, work on this particular bill has been touted as a return to “normality.”

Here’s what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to say about it: “This is something for those of us who have been in the Senate a while that brings back a lot of memories. This is the way we did things in the past. It is difficult, but it moves legislation.”

But the work of appropriations is still a race against the clock and the Senate is unlikely to finish in time:

Even though the August debt ceiling deal set the top-line 2012 spending number at $1.043 trillion, Congress is struggling to process spending legislation without resorting to catch-all measures rammed through under looming government shutdowns.

Appropriations aides said the most likely scenario now is a House-Senate conference on the minibus followed by House passage and Senate re-passage.

Staff will spend next week preparing for a conference since the final amendments on the minibus have been mapped out, an aide said. A conference on the bill could wrap up in a matter of days.

Beyond that, because government funding runs out Nov. 18, a stopgap continuing resolution lasting until the middle of December is basically inevitable.

The funding areas to be considered next are a little more controversial than the ones the Senate took up this past week. Bills to fund health, financial services and energy, for example, will draw riders from the GOP to defund Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and environmental measures.

Because the Senate still has 11 appropriations bills to work through, it’s likely they’ll be bundled into either more minibuses or an omnibus bill. No matter what, though, the process takes floor time — time Reid has continued to take up with political stunts like voting piece by piece on the president’s jobs bill. And an omnibus bill would be problematic because it could hide all kinds of unnecessary spending.

You can bet Democrats will blame Republicans for any slow-going on appropriations. I have just one retort. You know what would really have made this process easier? A budget — which the Senate hasn’t passed in more than 900 days. I believe that’s also “the way things were done in the past,” Mr. Reid.

Tags: Budget Senate