Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, bowing to Republican opposition to a 1,924-page $1.2 trillion spending measure packed with earmarks, withdrew the bill and said he would work with Republican leaders on a smaller, short-term budget fix to avoid a looming government shutdown.
The government already is operating on a temporary stopgap measure, set to expire at the end of Friday. Republicans had insisted on having the massive spending bill read aloud – a move that would have delayed a final vote until next week.
Reid, in announcing his decision, lashed out, saying that he had the support of the nine GOP senators needed to pass the measure, but suddenly that support evaporated.
"This action taken by my friends on other side of aisle going to cause people to lose their job," Reid said.
McConnell gave a different interpretation.
"He doesn't have the votes," McConnell said. "And the reason he doesn't have the votes is because members on this side of the aisle increasingly felt concerned about the way we do business."
A McConnell aide said the leader "worked the phones" for days, pressing his members to quash the bill. Republicans had strongly condemned the $1.27 trillion omnibus spending bill, which would fund the government through Sept. 30, for its $8.3 billion worth of earmarks -- though some of those earmarks belong to Republicans.
Defenders of earmarks point out that the money for congressional earmarks represents a tiny portion of the bill -- less than 1 percent -- and that lawmakers know the needs of their states and congressional districts better than administration bureaucrats. And just because something is in the president's budget doesn't mean that it's not pork.
"If you look up earmark in the dictionary, it means 'to designate or set aside.' It is not 'in addition to,'" said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. "If the Congress does not exercise its constitutional authority to designate where the funds will go, the administration will usurp that authority and you will get every bit as much pork barrel spending."
Such arguments, however, have been drowned out by protests from Tea Party activists and other opponents of the projects, who make fun of earmarks like $100,000 obtained by Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., to renovate the Edgar Allan Poe museum in the Bronx, a cottage where the poet lived for the final three years of his life.
Other senators with earmarks in the bill after voting last month to ban them include Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Kay Baily Hutchison, R-Texas; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Even avid earmarker Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee -- who obtained almost 300 earmarks totaling more than $500 million -- hasn't explicitly come out in support of the bill, though he's widely expected to vote with Democrats later this week to advance it.
Fox News' Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.