Omnibus Action Next Week Possible, but Obstacles Still Exist

‘For the moment we have a lot of work to do to iron these out,’ Pelosi said

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said much work remains to iron out issues on an omnibus spending bill that House GOP leaders hope to bring to the floor next week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The nearly six-month delayed fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill could be brought to the House floor next week, but appropriators are still encountering major obstacles in drafting a bipartisan bill — even with unrelated landmines cleared. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he would like to bring the omnibus to the floor next week, but during a week-end colloquy with House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, he did not announce it as a definite part of the upcoming floor schedule. Rather, he noted action on the spending package was “possible.”

The Appropriations committees “are making great progress,” McCarthy said. “There are a few things left to actually close out. I would like to get it done a week ahead of time, and I hope your side would as well.”

Hoyer was less optimistic, saying, “Negotiations aren’t proceeding effectively as I would hope they would.”

The good news is that most of the issues holding up the omnibus are actually related to government spending and are ones appropriators and congressional leaders have worked through in the past. For instance, negotiations are ongoing regarding provisions related to family planning and abortions. 

In addition to those “poison pill” provisions, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats had serious issues with specific funding requests in the Homeland Security appropriations bill that Democrats “could never live with” — although she did not elaborate.

“For the moment we have a lot of work to do to iron these out,” she said.

With that work in mind, Pelosi complained about the House schedule. 

“Why are we going home at 11 o’clock on Thursday afternoon, not coming back until next Tuesday, when we have a deadline of the 23rd of March to pass the omnibus bill?” she said. 

Some landmines avoided

That the typical partisan divide over Planned Parenthood and abortions is one of the main obstacles to striking an omnibus deal is a sign of progress, given the thorny issues that could have been thrown into the negotiations. 

After unsuccessfully pushing for protections for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, on several stopgap spending bills Congress considered this year, Democrats appear willing to keep their ongoing calls for legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program separate from omnibus negotiations.

“It doesn’t have to be on the omnibus bill,” Pelosi said. “But the omnibus bill has other problems in it.”

Another landmine Democrats could have thrown on the omnibus is a demand for legislation that President Donald Trump has endorsed but many congressional Republicans oppose to strengthen background checks for gun purchases by requiring such checks for firearms purchased online or at gun shows.

The minority appears willing to put off the gun control debate until after the omnibus, however. 

“Knowing where [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is and [Speaker Paul D.] Ryan is, I think the omnibus is not going to be the way to do it,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday. 

The New York Democrat referenced the March 24 rally in Washington that students are organizing to push action on gun control as a leverage point. 

“We will try to force floor action after that rally,” Schumer said. 

While Pelosi and Schumer are suggesting that they won’t push for comprehensive DACA or gun safety legislation on the omnibus, it’s still possible that some smaller bills dealing with those issues might be attached. 

Issues remain

Some issues unrelated to the spending bill do remain, like whether to attach health care market stabilization or internet sales tax legislation. But those issues have not yet reached a boiling point, as it’s still unclear if either will be included.

The omnibus squabble that appeared to cause the most strife this week is over language related to reproductive issues.

One disagreement stems from Senate language on Title X that would prevent the administration from altering qualifications for family planning grants, effectively ensuring Planned Parenthood and its affiliates remain eligible for the funding. 

“The real issue here is whether or not the administration is free to make the decision on grants for family planning and teen pregnancy, or whether or not groups who have gotten the money in the past get to keep getting the money,” Rep. Tom Cole, the appropriator in charge of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the issue, said. “The last administration got to make these decisions. This administration should get to make these decisions. We are not going to arbitrarily deny them the right to make these grants as they see fit.”

The Oklahoma Republican also suggested that appropriators have yet to reach agreement over whether to retain House language on the so-called conscience clause, which would allow health care professionals with religious objections to abortions to opt out of performing them.

“The only hard line I see [as] nonnegotiable is we’ve got to make sure the Henry Hyde language is part of that,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said of his conservative caucus’s demands for the omnibus. The so-called Hyde amendment would prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report. 

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