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Daunting To-Do List Before Leaving D.C.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Congress should extend unemployment insurance benefits before recessing for the year. If an extension is not passed, many jobless Americans will stop receiving the benefits in the new year.

Hoyer said he does not favor offsetting a UI extension with spending cuts elsewhere, which could cause friction with the GOP-led House. But he said his Caucus is interested in paying for a payroll tax extension and the doc fix.

“We will cooperate with Republicans on paying for them,” Hoyer said, although he declined to say where Democrats and Republicans might find common ground.

A GOP leadership aide said savings identified by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, the Rivlin-Domenici Commission or the president’s budget could be a starting point.

A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats suspect Republicans will also look for offsets in the work done by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction that failed to come to agreement before its deadline last week.

There were a handful of provisions upon which both sides were close to agreeing. They total about $300 billion and include savings from changes to pension benefits for federal employees, a reduction in agriculture subsidies and spectrum sales.

Another possibility is counting $700 billion in savings from ramping down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The extenders tax package and patching the alternative minimum tax are typically passed unpaid for but are not the primary focus at the moment and could be done retroactively next year because they would affect tax year 2012, sources said.

That leaves appropriations, which will likely be handled in a catchall omnibus package that includes the nine remaining annual spending bills and will total about $900 billion. Three spending bills were passed in a minibus package before the Thanksgiving recess.

Congress has until Dec. 16 to act before temporary spending expires. One Senate Democratic aide said that an omnibus is the best option compared to letting the government shut down or passing a year-long continuing resolution that doesn’t take into account any Democratic or Republican priorities.

Senate Democratic leaders wanted to pass another minibus package of three spending bills including the Energy and water development bill, the State and foreign operations measure and the
financial services and general government bill. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave up on that after  GOP objections earlier this month to attaching the other two bills to the Energy and water measure.

The Nevada Democrat put the Energy and water bill aside but said he hopes to return to it if an agreement can be worked out on amendments with Republicans.

“It’s very hard to call at this point,” a House Democratic aide said. “As of earlier today, there was still the possibility that Energy and water would come to the floor separately in the Senate, further delaying omnibus consideration. It’s really hard to say one way or the other on CR versus omnibus at this early stage.”

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