Spending Bill Remains Up in the Air as New Shutdown Deadline Approaches

Architect of the Capitol

Con­gress man­aged to avoid a week­end ses­sion by passing a short-term spend­ing bill at the end of last week, but they headed home to their dis­tricts Fri­day with two ma­jor pieces of le­gis­la­tion still very much up in the air.

With a Wed­nes­day dead­line to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down, mem­bers of Con­gress still have not come to an agree­ment on how they’ll keep the doors open—nor have they reached a deal to make per­man­ent some favored tax breaks for busi­nesses and in­di­vidu­als. Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers and top tax ne­go­ti­at­ors planned to spend the week­end in Wash­ing­ton to hash out fi­nal deals on both pack­ages, with lead­er­ship hope­ful that an om­ni­bus and tax deal could be pos­ted in the House on Monday.

“Our pro­jec­tion is for the House to post an om­ni­bus on Monday and vote on it by Wed­nes­day,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn told re­port­ers last week, em­phas­iz­ing that the om­ni­bus was not yet com­pleted.

At is­sue for the om­ni­bus spend­ing bill are sev­er­al policy riders pre­ferred by each party. Re­pub­lic­ans have vari­ously pushed to lift the ban on crude-oil ex­ports and to al­ter cam­paign fin­ance laws, while Demo­crats have pressed to pro­tect the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions and for ad­di­tion­al gun-re­stric­tion meas­ures. As ne­go­ti­at­ors con­tin­ue their talks through the week­end, lead­ers have re­mained mum about which policy riders are still un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

“I think there are a few out­stand­ing is­sues that have not been re­solved. But it’s kind of one of those things where noth­ing’s re­solved un­til everything’s re­solved,” Cornyn said Thursday.

The hope, Cornyn ad­ded, is that once the House passes the fund­ing bill—which could in­clude a tax deal—Wed­nes­day, the Sen­ate can get a un­an­im­ous agree­ment to pass the bill that even­ing, avoid­ing the need for an­oth­er short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion.

Still, House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers said al­though the House ex­pects to post a fin­ished bill Monday, there could be a need for an­oth­er short-term spend­ing meas­ure to give the Sen­ate time to work through pro­ced­ur­al hurdles.

He said, as mem­bers were leav­ing the Cap­it­ol on Fri­day, that many of the out­stand­ing policy is­sues had been kicked up to lead­er­ship, so ap­pro­pri­at­ors were wait­ing for a deal to be cut so they can write the bill, have it scored by the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice, and post the text.

“Some of these things, the big policy ques­tions, of course, will be dealt with by the lead­er­ship,” he said. “The run-of-the-mill ap­pro­pri­ations stuff, we’ll take that up when lead­er­ship deals with the policy is­sues.”

There are still sev­er­al is­sues left to re­solve for Con­gress to pass a tax deal as well. Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee chair­man Or­rin Hatch said Thursday that he would stay in Wash­ing­ton through the week­end to try to get a lar­ger deal on tax ex­tenders, but sug­ges­ted that ne­go­ti­at­ors may soon have to move on to a two-year ex­ten­sion of cur­rent policy if a lar­ger deal can’t be made.

“Both sides are do­ing their very best to get the is­sues that are as good for their side as they can and that’s what’s hap­pen­ing now,” Hatch said Thursday. “But soon we’ll come up against the wall of hav­ing to act and I think when that hap­pens, hope­fully we’ll get this done. I can live with the two-year pro­gram.”

Hatch was wary about dis­cuss­ing de­tails of the po­ten­tial, lar­ger deal with the press, but did say that any pack­age he would ac­cept would in­clude a re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s risk cor­ridors pro­vi­sion, of­ten re­ferred to by Re­pub­lic­ans as bail­out money for in­sur­ance com­pan­ies.

House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said she was op­tim­ist­ic Con­gress would pass the om­ni­bus be­fore the dead­line, but said her caucus will firmly op­pose the lar­ger tax ex­tender pack­age—even if it’s rolled in­to the om­ni­bus. “I don’t see very much sup­port on the Demo­crat­ic side for the tax-ex­tender bill,” she said. “It’s a massive, per­man­ent giveaway—[an] un­paid-for tax-ex­tender pack­age, which is really de­struct­ive. …  I wouldn’t vote for it, and I wouldn’t re­com­mend that any­body else vote for it.”

The size of a fi­nal tax pack­age is a con­cern for many Demo­crats throughout the Cap­it­ol, par­tic­u­larly be­cause many of the tax breaks that would be made per­man­ent are not fully paid for. But Hatch ar­gued Thursday that by fo­cus­ing on the size of the deal, Demo­crats are miss­ing many policy vic­tor­ies for both parties made pos­sible by a lar­ger agree­ment. “It’d be really stu­pid for the Demo­crats to not take the full [deal] … be­cause both sides are treated pretty fairly,” Hatch said. “The Demo­crats are treated well and we are too. It’s a clas­sic com­prom­ise that really de­serves to be done.”

Pelosi has been push­ing to end a long­time ban that pre­vents the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion from re­search­ing gun vi­ol­ence as a part of the year-end ne­go­ti­ations. Ac­cord­ing to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Pelosi asked and re­ceived per­mis­sion from her caucus to make it a top ne­go­ti­at­ing pri­or­ity. On Fri­day, Pelosi said Re­pub­lic­ans should view the meas­ure as a sweeten­er to get Demo­crats on board with the om­ni­bus. “You want our votes; here is a way to get them,” she said. Still, Demo­crats have giv­en no in­dic­a­tion they would be will­ing to kill an om­ni­bus deal that did not in­clude the pro­vi­sion.

An­oth­er big ques­tion is wheth­er the year-end spend­ing and tax deal will lift the ban on crude oil ex­ports. End­ing the 1970s-era re­stric­tions is a pri­or­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans and the oil in­dustry (and some con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp).

Demo­crats have signaled that they’re open to lift­ing the ban in re­turn for a big list of GOP con­ces­sions, such as al­low­ing long-term ex­ten­sions of re­new­able elec­tri­city tax breaks and drop­ping “riders” that would thwart Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion en­vir­on­ment­al rules. And Delaware Demo­crat Tom Carp­er is push­ing for tax breaks for re­finers who would face high­er costs if the ban is lif­ted.

It’s un­clear if there’s a polit­ic­al sweet spot to be found. Dick Durbin, the Sen­ate’s No. 2 Demo­crat, says the White House has been a “ma­jor ne­go­ti­at­or” on the oil-ban rider. That sug­gests that while the White House has pre­vi­ously threatened to veto House le­gis­la­tion that man­dates re­mov­al of the ban, there may be room for com­prom­ise if Demo­crats can get enough in re­turn.

Alex BrownAlex RogersBen Geman and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this article.

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