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Final Showdown on Spending

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) plans to offer an amendment to the package of spending bills that would continue funding for Nevada’s planned nuclear waste repository Yucca Mountain.

The brinkmanship over government spending that nearly paralyzed Congress earlier this year may finally be over.

Though lawmakers are still expected to cut close to the Friday deadline when current spending expires, another fracas over a government shutdown is unlikely. The House and Senate are expected to clear a short-term stopgap measure this week that is expected to keep the government funded through the week of Dec. 12.

A new roughly monthlong continuing resolution will be part of a package of three appropriations bills that a conference committee expects to approve in time for House consideration Thursday and Senate passage Friday. The spending bill includes the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill; the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill; and the Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration appropriations bill, along with the CR.

This week’s action on the minibus comes after three prior government shutdown sparring matches this year — twice over finishing work on appropriations and a third time over raising the debt limit.

Still, the path is not completely clear. 

A deeply polarizing debate over how big a mortgage the federal government will back is festering. The Senate raised the limits of loans that are allowed to have government backing in its minibus, but the House did not.

On Thursday, the Club for Growth, a conservative group known for backing primary opponents to moderate Republicans, issued a pre-emptive threat to “key vote” the minibus if it raised the loan limits. “If the conferees strip out this big-government rider, then the club will reassess the bill for consideration of a key vote,” the notice said.

Conservatives are still unhappy about the disaster funding mechanism in the Budget Control Act, the legislative result of the eleventh-hour debt ceiling deal.

Members of the Republican Study Committee have complained to GOP leaders that it was unclear at the time of the law’s passage that the mechanism could result in spending above the discretionary spending caps also in the law.

At the outset of the conference committee, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee dealing with transportation matters and a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), hinted that House leaders could use Democratic votes to bypass the conservatives’ complaints.

“I think we can get bipartisan support for the package,” Latham said.

But there’s a limit to how heavily Boehner can rely on Democratic votes for passage before he begins to alienate too many in his Conference.

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