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Riders Are Key to Endgame Strategy

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Steven LaTourette said the strategy on the spending bills is to have a few riders on each bill and then allow Members to keep some while forcing them to give up others.

With little margin for error as the calendar winds down, Congressional leaders are looking to strike a delicate balance regarding policy riders attached to a year-end spending bill that must clear both chambers next week.

House and Senate Democrats hope to keep riders to a minimum, but there will be some concessions on both sides to ensure a package passes with bipartisan support, lawmakers said.

Congress must act before the Dec. 16 expiration date of the current continuing resolution.

Adding to the pressure, the House is working on a separate legislative package that is expected to include an extension of the payroll tax holiday, an extension of long-term unemployment insurance and legislation to avert a cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

“We’re continuing to talk to our Members” about the package, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) said Wednesday after a Republican caucus meeting. “We talked to them last week. We got their input. We’re continuing to work on this, and we expect that before the week’s over, we’ll talk to our Members again. But I think it’s important for us to have these deliberations with our colleagues before we introduce a bill, and we’ll do it in just that way.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday warned that work might continue through next weekend.  

“While our goal is to complete all legislative business by Friday, Dec. 16, Members are advised to keep their schedules flexible into the weekend of [Dec. 16],” Cantor said. “Saturday and Sunday sessions are possible.”

Though appropriators remained vague on the specifics of the spending bill, they said the closed-door negotiations have centered on whittling dozens of riders to ameliorate both sides.

“We’ve got to thread that needle,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. The trick: including enough riders to draw Republican votes but not too many to drive away Democrats.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said Democrats have been working to keep the number of riders to a minimum.

“We’re trying to keep them out,” Inouye said, adding that the GOP was pushing in the other direction.

He stressed that issues are being negotiated and that neither side will get everything it wants.

A Senate GOP aide said the House has been a “difficult hurdle to clear,” so if they need some riders, “it can’t be overlooked.”

GOP aides said Senate Democrats were also seeking to get into the package riders such as language loosening abortion restrictions for nongovernmental organizations.

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