Congress and the Omnibus Endgame: It’s ‘Complicated’
“It’s all complicated. Every day is complicated.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, was referring on Wednesday to delicate negotiations to attach a measure extending expired tax provisions to the year-end omnibus appropriations bill. But the Utah Republican, the Senate president pro tempore and Finance Committee chairman who was first elected in 1976, could have been referring to the increasingly complex maneuvers to wrap up the first session of the 114th Congress. Even though Congress has known for weeks that the current continuing resolution funding the government expires Friday, negotiators have been stuck on several points, especially how many policy riders will be included in an omnibus, and whether other big-ticket legislative items would hitch a ride.
On Wednesday, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., made the first step to give everyone a bit more time to figure it all out as he introduced a short-term continuing resolution that extends current funding levels through midnight on Dec. 16th.
“There’s a lot of unresolved issues,” Rogers said. “Some of them are being handled by leadership and then a whole host of others will be considered at the committee level. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We are making progress.”
Potential language addressing the certification process for Syrian refugees, the so-called Waters of the United States regulation for inland waterways and a provision related to conscience clauses regarding coverage of abortion-related services are among the issues leadership is negotiating, Rogers said.
He said it remains to be seen exactly when negotiations will conclude and the omnibus will ready for a vote, but said the talks will not spill into next year.
Asked if text of the omnibus could be released before the end of the week, Rogers’ answer showed just how complicated things are.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said, but then quickly added, “Well, I take that back. You know, you can’t tell. I hope for a breakthrough that would propel us toward a bill soon, but it’s too early to predict that.”
The move to advance a CR through Dec. 16 means it’s likely the omnibus will need to be ready for House passage on Dec. 14. That would give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the opportunity to set up a debate-limiting cloture vote for early on Dec. 16.
Then, assuming senators do not consume all of the 30 hours of post-cloture debate, the Senate could move to clear the measure before the new deadline.
The House Rules Committee will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday to clear the short-term CR for the House calendar and in time to avoid a shutdown. Democrats are expected to vote for the short-term measure, according to Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York.
The White House has said the president would sign a short-term CR only to give members more time to put the final touches on an omnibus, not continue negotiating.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told members Wednesday that the chamber would be in session Friday, but not over the weekend. Depending on the status of negotiations over the weekend, McCarthy will make a determination whether the House will reconvene on Monday or Tuesday of next week to vote on a final omnibus package.
A House vote Monday would mean negotiators would have to have text posted Saturday to adhere to the GOP’s three-day rule. Rogers didn’t sound optimistic about that earlier in the day, but the calendar is fluid.
Although many of the riders are now being negotiated by leadership, Rogers was still complimentary of Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s effort to let appropriators lead most negotiations.
“He wants to push as much of this as he can to the committee level,” Rogers said. “That’s his style, and I appreciate that very much. Some items of course have to be decided by leadership in consultation with the Democrat leadership, House and Senate. But he’s been very good and very effective.”
Rogers said he and Ryan talk often and that the speaker has been easy to work with. “He’s above board. He is not playing a separate set of cards under the table.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he thinks policy issues that have garnered bipartisan support in the past, such as blocking the Waters of the United States rule, are the most likely to survive as riders on the omnibus.
“I think there’s confidence that we’ll get a deal in the end,” he said.
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he would likely vote for the omnibus if it included a version of the legislation the House passed last month restricting the flow of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to the United States. He pointed out he had never voted for an omnibus.
Salmon was skeptical the White House would veto the omnibus over the provision. The White House threatened a veto of the stand-alone bill, even though it passed on a veto-proof margin.
“The president would shut down the government over his ego?” Salmon asked.
On tax extenders, Hatch’s House counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said negotiators will stay at the table as long they’re making progress. “Hopefully, every day we get closer to a final package, but again we know the clock is ticking; there’s not much time left,” he said.
Lindsey McPherson, Emma Dumain, John T. Bennett, Tamar Hallerman and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report .
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