Cromnibus Stalling Behind Closed Doors (Updated)
Updated 7:37 p.m. | With “cromnibus” negotiations bogging down in the House Monday, lawmakers pressing up against their self-imposed deadline were preparing a one- to two-day temporary spending bill that would fund the government until they resolve their differences.
Both the House and Senate want to wrap up the 113th Congress Thursday, the day government runs out of cash, with a final vote on the cromnibus (a combination of a continuing resolution for the Homeland Security department and an omnibus to fund all other federal operations) — but negotiators hit a host of snags Monday afternoon.
“The playing field of questions is much larger than we previously realized,” one senior Republican aide told CQ Roll Call.
GOP aides said the sticking points were forcing changes to the schedule. The situation and target adjournment date were fluid late Monday, with the measure’s original release likely delayed at least to Tuesday, which would push the planned House vote to later in the week. That could mean Senate action on the bill may not come until Friday or the weekend.
“Thursday will not be the last day of the session,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday. “That much I’m confident [about]. This Thursday? Not a chance. Maybe this Saturday.”
Others, though, were more optimistic the work would be done on schedule.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said she and House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., have come to an agreement on their parts of the spending bill and that House and Senate leadership negotiators are hammering out remaining issues. She said she still hoped the bill would be filed Monday night.
“Everything is a sticking point until we can get it unstuck and filed,” she said.
Leaving the House floor in the afternoon, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he had to “catch up with” Rogers. The California Republican said negotiators appeared to be “closing in on some final points” and “finishing out final details.” McCarthy, however, wouldn’t commit to a timeline for filing the cromnibus, though he did predict the House, at least, would finish its work by Thursday. Among the issues remaining are a bevy of EPA riders. Republicans are looking to constrain the agency through a number of provisions, but with Democrats pushing back, negotiators were running into a mathematics question: If you gain five conservatives with this EPA rider, will you lose 10 Democrats?
It’s precisely the leverage Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has alluded to when discussing the cromnibus. If Republicans are leaning on Democrats to pass the bill, the measure will have to reflect some degree of compromise.
But if it goes too far to the left, Republicans could be looking at a full-scale backlash from conservatives — especially those on the right who want to send President Barack Obama a message on his proposed deportation deferments for illegal immigrants.
Pelosi has told House Democrats to wait until they see the final text of the bill, not wanting to draw lines in the sand on specific provisions and policy riders that could derail already delicate negotiations.
But some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are already prepared to say they’ll vote against any spending package that sunsets funding for the DHS, which would oversee the president’s immigration order, at an earlier date.
One such member who plans to hold out on that front is Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., for whom the deal would represent “a misguided response … in order to make a political point,” according to his spokesman.
Several sources familiar with internal CHC conversations told CQ Roll Call the group, which consists of more than 20 voting House Democrats, could actually decide as a bloc to oppose a cromnibus that targets DHS funding specifically. But a final decision has not been made.
Conservatives and other Democrats also were threatening an uprising over issues such as abortion.
On Monday, Democratic Reps. Louise M. Slaughter of New York and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, who are co-chairwomen of the Pro-Choice Caucus, wrote to House leaders asking the cromnibus not include a “conscience clause” that would allow businesses to deny some reproductive health insurance benefits.
But if that rider is left out, conservatives may balk, with some pro-life groups already weighing a campaign against the cromnibus if it does not include such language.
And that is the tenor of the negotiations. Both sides know small points could potentially cost chunks of votes on either side — to say nothing of the wonkier issues the funding measure may or may not address.
Among those issues Monday was multiemployer pensions. The government’s private pension safety net is running at a large deficit, and lawmakers are trying to decide how — and whether — the spending bill would address the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Yet another issue was the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which needs to be reauthorized by year’s end. TRIA has already caused considerable heartburn for negotiations in both chambers on both sides of the aisle.
Sources indicated late last week that lawmakers were nearing an agreement to continue funding the initiative, which provides a federal backstop for insurance claims by localities affected by terror attacks. But as of late Monday, the final touches were still being worked out.
Even with the outstanding issues, aides were confident a shutdown would be avoided.
“Timing is fluid, but everyone is committed to preventing a shutdown,” a senior GOP aide said. Whether that means Congress has to pass a short-term CR for a day or two remains to be seen, and the aide would not directly comment on that possibility. “When things happen, they can happen fast,” the aide said.
In any case, the risks of a possible shutdown grow higher and higher with each passing hour: If the House doesn’t vote on the bill until Thursday, the Senate will have only hours to pass it — meaning any one senator could hold up the legislation and send the government into a shutdown.
Connor O’Brien, Emily Ethridge and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.
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