House may move soon on first of two omnibus measures
The House is expected to take up the first half of a two-part omnibus package this week, which could hitch a ride on the final version of the fiscal 2010 Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill, senior House Democratic and Republican aides said Monday.
The package is expected to include five other appropriations bills which have not yet been enacted, excluding the fiscal 2010 Defense spending bill, which will be the focus of the second part of the omnibus.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Monday that extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits could go in either package.
Conferees are expected to meet Tuesday on Transportation-HUD, the aides said, and the package could be voted on by the House Thursday.
There are three bills, not including Defense, that have passed both the House and Senate and are waiting to be reconciled by conferees: the fiscal 2010 Military Construction-VA bill, the fiscal 2010 Transportation-HUD bill, and the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science bill.
To date, only five of the 12 annual appropriations bills have been signed into law by President Obama.
A Republican aide suggested the Transportation-HUD bill will likely be the vehicle because it would allow House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., to chair the conference committee, which would give the House a little leverage over the Senate. A Democratic aide would not confirm what the vehicle would be.
If approved by the House, the omnibus would be taken up by the Senate, which could interrupt its healthcare debate because it does not need unanimous consent to consider a conference report.
However, Senate Democratic leaders may need 60 votes to cut off debate on the package and possibly 60 votes to waive a Senate rule that prohibits including items in conference reports that were not in either the Senate or House versions of the bill.
Thirty-five Republican senators, led by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., sent a letter to Reid warning that if any provisions making changes that support abortion rights are included in the omnibus, the package will face stiff resistance.
"We want to assure you that we are prepared to take full advantage of our rights under Senate rules" to prevent enactment of the abortion-related provisions, the letter states.
One example is a provision in the Financial Services Appropriations bills passed by the House and Senate, which includes the District of Columbia budget, which would eliminate a prohibition on use of local tax funds for abortion, a move opposed by Republicans.
The House is expected to take up the second part of the omnibus next week, which would consist of the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill, as well as possibly an increase in the debt limit, jobs creation legislation and other items.
A Republican aide said the second package will not likely be conferenced but instead be ping-ponged between the House and Senate, where one house sends a take-it-or-leave-it package to the other. If the package is changed, it would need to go back to the other house for its approval.
The current continuing resolution funding federal programs not covered by enacted appropriations bill expires Dec. 18. The House could be out of session after that week, which would force the Senate to make the first volley.
It remains unclear whether the House will be in session or not after Dec. 18, as it waits to see if the Senate passes healthcare legislation and whether quick action can be taken to reconcile the different versions and pass the final product.
The ping-pong strategy eliminates motions to recommit the bill, which would otherwise offer the minority a chance to change the package.
Hoyer Monday downplayed Republican criticism that using Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to pay for a jobs bill was trading possible debt for definite debt.
"TARP was designed to try to stabilize and build the economy. We're still trying to accomplish that purpose," said Hoyer.
House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana said Monday that, "A year later, now [TARP's] going to morph into some sort of a slush fund [for] the next wish list of liberal spending priorities disguised as some sort of stimulus bill."
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said he is circulating a letter to be delivered to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., -- already signed by Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., Pence, and other Republicans -- "demanding that we not raid TARP funds -- that the statute that was passed 13 months ago, roughly, is adhered to."
Hensarling, the lone congressional Republican on the oversight panel for the TARP program, also said he has introduced legislation to ensure the TARP program does not go beyond Dec. 31. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner must decide before the end of the year if he intends to extend the TARP program through October.
Billy House and Peter Cohn contributed to this report.