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Democrats' Discontent on 'Cromnibus' Bubbles to Surface

Israel characterized House Democrats' reaction to the spending bill as grim. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As House Republican leaders try to shore up support for the "cromnibus" on their side of the aisle, it's becoming less of a sure bet that House Democrats can be relied upon to make up for the shortfall if need be.  

After taking a "wait-and-see" approach over the past week on the massive appropriations bill needed to fund the government past Thursday, Democrats on Wednesday began staking out positions — from consternation to flat-out opposition — to the 289,861-word, $1.013 trillion measure  unveiled the night before. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the newly installed chairman of Policy and Communications for House Democrats, told CQ Roll Call the reception to the bill was grim. "[It] didn’t exactly get a standing ovation at the caucus this morning," he said, "and my guess is, if the speaker can’t agree on taking out the more onerous provisions, we’re gonna wake up tomorrow morning not knowing how long government will be funded past tomorrow night."  

According to Israel, Democratic discontent primarily hinges on three key areas: A policy rider rolling back portions of the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul bill known as Dodd-Frank, which Republicans say is too burdensome; a provision changing campaign finance laws to increase the amount of money a single donor can give annually to a national political party; and the Feb. 27 sunset date for Homeland Security funding, setting up a fight on President Barack Obama's immigration executive orders early in the new year.  

Israel, who said he would vote against the bill unless he saw some substantial changes, said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has spoken to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, in the hours since the bill text was introduced late Tuesday.  

"So far, negotiations have been in good faith," Israel said. "I think she made a good-faith effort to let the speaker know that the votes just aren't there right now, and there was still work to be done."  

Pelosi stopped short of pledging a "no" vote Wednesday, issuing a statement that served more than anything else as a stern warning to GOP leaders. The Dodd-Frank and campaign finance provisions, she said, “are destructive to middle-class families and to the practice of our democracy. We must get them out of the omnibus package.”  

Whether Democrats have leverage to demand changes to the bill will ultimately depend on how many votes House Republicans have among their conference. The extent of GOP drop-off won't be determined until later Wednesday, when the cromnibus is formally whipped. Several House Republicans left a closed-door conference meeting Wednesday morning saying they had anywhere from "dozens" to "60" colleagues prepared to join them to rebuff the spending measure.  

There are 57 GOP co-sponsors of a cromnibus amendment that will go before the House Rules Committee Wednesday afternoon to allow a floor vote on language “prohibit[ing] funds to carry out or implement the President’s Executive Amnesty."  

It could also all come down to whether House Democratic leaders decide to whip "no" against the cromnibus.  

The senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., expressed her dissatisfaction on Tuesday night with the final text, but suggested that members will decide for themselves which way to vote.  

And for undecided Democrats, there are plenty of areas that could be considered victories. According to a document obtained by CQ Roll Call, Democratic negotiators succeeding in defeating or significantly diluting more than 77 policy riders that would have dealt a further blow to the party on both sides of the Rotunda.  

Those riders included language that would have weakened certain initiatives to combat climate change, prohibited grants to law enforcement entities based on their local immigration policies, stopped enforcement of the health care law's "individual mandate" to have insurance and inserted anti-abortion provisions, among other things.  

Still, Democrats on Wednesday were either individually or collectively making their dissatisfaction known.  

Budget ranking member and de facto member of Democratic leadership Chris Van Hollen of Maryland was the first most-senior member of the caucus to put out a statement saying he would vote against the legislation in its current form.  

“It is unacceptable to threaten a government shutdown in order to do the bidding of the biggest banks and put taxpayers on the hook again for their gambling losses," he said. "To add insult to injury, [Senate] Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has demanded that special interests be able to pour even more money into the Congressional political party committees — which allows them to buy more influence in the Congress."  

(The campaign finance rider is actually different from the changes sought by McConnell. He had been pushing for language eliminating restrictions on how party committees spend their funds.)  

The co-chairmen of the 67-member strong Congressional Progressive Caucus — Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota — said their faction was poised to oppose the legislation without substantial changes.  

And then there's Rep. David E. Price of North Carolina, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. He told CQ Roll Call he plans to go to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday afternoon to demand that Department of Homeland Security spending be extended through the end of September.  

Price said he would vote against the cromnibus in its current form, though he could not speak for the other Democrats on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee who are joining him as co-sponsors of the amendment: Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Bill Owens of New York.  

   

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