The aura of optimism continued to radiate around the Capitol this afternoon as House Appropriators on both sides of the aisle became suddenly hopeful that a conference report could be signed tonight and voted on Friday.
Republicans, who have maintained this week that there is an agreement on all policy issues, began to acknowledge that there might be changes made to the bill before it is filed.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) would not directly address where the changes would come but said he hopes the package wrapping up fiscal 2012 spending could get a House vote Friday. The current continuing resolution for the nine remaining appropriations bills expires at the end of that day.
“This is a responsible bill that we’re including here,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I want to get a vote for it out of the way so that even next year we will be able to pass these individual bills … in open and transparent committee hearings, committee markups, amendments, floor, open rules, that kind of thing.”
The panel’s ranking member, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) was also tight-lipped about the discussions but said, “If we get an agreement, we’ll sign it.”
The Rules Committee is prepared to meet tonight to debate a rule on the conference report if it is signed, but no such meeting has been planned or announced.
The dialogue seems now to center on a rider that would reinstate Cuban travel restrictions that President Barack Obama relaxed in 2009.
Rep. José Serrano, ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said he is involved in “hot and heavy” talks to modify or even drop the provision.
“There’s talk about modifying that,” the New York Democrat said. “I’ve heard, like, 20 different [modifications]. … None of them have finalized.”
Rep. Jim Moran, ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, said he believes the best way to deal with the Cuba rider is for the president to use his waiver authority.
“The best way to solve the Cuba issue is for the president to waive it, to sign it and then use his waiver authority,” the Virginia Democrat said.
He said there were also talks over a provision that would ban energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs but predicted that all of the issues would be resolved “today.”
“We should go to Rules tonight, we should vote on the omnibus appropriations bill tomorrow and let the federal workforce and the taxpayers that support it know that the government is going to be funded,” he said.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier today that he would prefer to pass the bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill rather than a backup bill filed last night, which mimics the language but is not a conference report.
That is no doubt true, as there is no guarantee his conference has enough votes to pass the latter: “No Member with whom I spoke this morning thinks the votes are there,” one GOP aide said.