Lawmakers Unveil Details of Plan to Keep Government Open
$1 trillion spending bill would fund most agencies through September, with the exception of DHS.
A $1 trillion spending bill to keep most of the government funded through next September—with the exception of the Homeland Security Department, which will be funded only through Feb. 27—was released Tuesday night following debates over dozens of policy riders affecting women's health, the environment, health care, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. The draft was completed only after a terrorism-insurance bill was split off onto a separate and still unresolved track.
"While not everyone got everything they wanted, such compromises must be made in a divided government," House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers and Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said in a joint statement Tuesday night.
But much work remained to be be done before Congress could leave town.
"No one wins from these cliffhanger fights we're having," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, though he added that he remains "optimistic that even Republicans don't want a shutdown."
Getting the omnibus bill through both chambers quickly will require a rare dose of bipartisanship; the House vote, in particular, could be tricky as Republican leaders look to attract Democratic votes to offset the expected opposition of some conservatives.
With current government funding expiring Thursday night, the House will bring to the floor a short-term continuing resolution, lasting just a few days, to buy the chambers more time to negotiate, according to a House GOP aide. Reid warned that senators could be forced to work through the weekend—and even, possibly, into next week—in order to resolve the spending issue.
Also on Reid's list of must-pass legislation is a bill to extend dozens of tax breaks that expired last year, the approval of more than a dozen of President Obama's nominees, and a reauthorization for the nation's defense programs. The defense bill hit a snag on Tuesday, further complicating the Senate's calendar as members prepare to leave town.
Sen. Tom Coburn objected to proceeding with the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday over the attachment of a federal lands bill. Reid filed cloture on that measure later Tuesday, setting up a vote on final passage later this week.
Once the defense bill has passed, the Senate will move on to the spending bill and then take up the tax-extender package. In the interim, Reid said he wants the chamber to confirm several nominees, including nine judges, new directors for the Social Security Administration and the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as the controversial nomination of Vivek Murthy to become the new surgeon general. Murthy's nomination faces the most issues, with even some conservative Democrats balking at his comments linking gun violence with health.
"There's a very, very good chance we'll be here this weekend," Reid said.
The House Republican Conference is slated to meet Wednesday morning, and GOP leaders hope to have the legislation ready by then so the conference can discuss it.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday he is not happy about the short-term DHS funding in the bill, and he expressed some concern about loading the legislation with extraneous measures, such as the pension bill or policy riders. But he signaled that he knows Republicans are counting on Democrats to provide at least some votes to pass the omnibus.
"The cleaner this bill is, the more likelihood there is of its passage," Hoyer said.
A path to a passable spending bill grew easier on Tuesday when House Republicans, culminating months of negotiations, decided to remove the reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act from the underlying bill. Instead, the lower chamber will pass TRIA, the government's backstop to businesses and other groups in the event of catastrophic terrorist attacks, as a separate measure. Negotiators had considered packaging the bill with an omnibus spending bill, but Senate Democrats refuse to budge on changes Republicans want regarding the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill.
Democrats are upset at the inclusion of a provision that would clarify that non-financial "end-users," such as main street businesses and farms, do not have to follow the same rules for derivatives markets applied to financial institutions. The measure passed the House this session 411-12.
"The Democrats' ideological and irrational zeal for Dodd-Frank is holding up a long-term reauthorization of TRIA," said a GOP aide. "Our side is trying to get a clarification—not a change— on Dodd-Frank's treatment of manufacturers, ranchers, and farmers."
A Senate Democratic aide dismissed that notion. "This is an attempt to kill the bill, pure and simple. Adding in an extraneous, unrelated Dodd-Frank issue that Democrats, and the administration, oppose to a bipartisan TRIA bill that has been carefully negotiated puts the future of TRIA in doubt," the aide said.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, agreed late Monday on the particulars of a TRIA reauthorization itself, in a deal to extend the program for another six years. The deal would raise the threshold where federal cost-sharing for insurance kicks in for damages from a terrorist strike to $200 million.
Initially enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the program is set to expire at the end of the year. It has had a $100 million threshold for when federal help would kick in. Business groups, property owners, and other groups have been urging Congress not to allow a lapse that they say would undermine construction projects and increase the difficulty in acquiring the needed insurance.
Tuesday night, the House Rules Committee advanced the chamber's version of a bill to reauthorize TRIA, which expires at the end of the year. Floor action on the measure has been set for Wednesday. But there remained no agreement with the Senate for action there.
Schumer, according to Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, and other Democrats, has said that inclusion of that provision or other Dodd-Frank language is "toxic" in the Senate. In short, the measure is threatening to be a poison pill to two-chamber passage.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a Rules Committee member, said he believed getting the terrorism insurance reauthorized before the current version expires is too important for lawmakers to be, in his words, "playing a game of chicken at the last minute."