House to vote on short-term funding bill

Source: By Scott Wong, The • Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A $1 trillion bill to keep the government running hit a series of setbacks on Tuesday, increasing the chances that lawmakers will be in town this weekend.

Congressional negotiators had planned to move a number of must-pass measures and head home for the holidays at the end of this week. But now, all bets are off.

 Congressional leaders reached a deal on the spending package Tuesday evening.Dubbed the “cromnibus,” the legislation is expected to encompass 11 appropriations bills that would cover most of the government for the rest of fiscal 2015 and one continuing resolution that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through February. The bill will avert a shutdown some conservatives had threatened over President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

House Republicans initially said they would unveil the $1 trillion omnibus bill on Monday, but they failed to hit that deadline for a variety of reasons. The lower chamber isn’t expected to vote on the measure until Thursday, leaving the Senate just hours to pass the spending bill before funding runs out.

Few — if anyone — on Capitol Hill believe there will be another government shutdown. But the delays mean the House this week will now be forced to pass a short-term funding bill to buy the Senate enough time to take up and debate the much larger omnibus package.

The short-term continuing resolution is likely to extend funding for two or three days, but aides said the duration hasn’t been decided yet.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he hoped to go home Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

“I don’t think I’m going home Thursday night, but that would be nice,” he said.

Congress has a habit of procrastinating, particularly at the end of the year. That has led to partisan showdowns that go right up until Christmas. In 2009, for example, the Senate passed ObamaCare on Christmas Eve. In 2012, Congress was in session through the holidays as it grappled with the fiscal cliff and a relief package in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

This year, many in Washington were cautiously optimistic that they would have plenty of time for holiday shopping. But that optimism is now waning.

So rather than going out strong, Congress is hobbling to the finish line as it wraps up work on yet another session marked by partisan gridlock.

“Maybe we’ll have to work the weekend and maybe even work next week. I know that’s tough duty for everybody, but we may have to do that,” outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Tuesday.

The Nevada Democrat said House Republicans’ efforts to add nearly 100 policy riders to the omnibus package was pushing Congress perilously close to Thursday’s funding deadline. During Senate Democrats’ closed-door weekly lunch, Reid said, Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) identified some of the “nearly 100” policy riders she’s been fighting off from House Republicans.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also warned that riders could derail the government funding bill. Meanwhile, Tea Party groups have already indicated they oppose the legislation. Republicans in the House have acknowledged they will need Democratic votes to pass a massive spending measure.

If Republicans embrace language to halt the District of Columbia’s decision to legalize marijuana, Reid said Senate Democrats would have a hard time stripping it out, even though he personally opposes what the GOP-led House wants to do.

Some lawmakers had hoped legislation renewing a post-9/11 terrorism insurance program would be able to hitch a ride on the omnibus package. But House negotiators broke the two bills apart after squabbling over the expiring Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) began bogging down the spending bill.

House Republicans will now vote on TRIA as a stand-alone measure that includes a provision by Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) that Democrats say would weaken the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer and other Senate Democrats won’t agree to that version of the bill, meaning the law insuring businesses in the event of large-scale terror attacks could expire on Dec. 31.

Republicans would then take up the issue next year, when they control both the House and Senate.

Other must-pass items include the annual defense authorization bill and a package extending expired tax provisions.

Reid filed cloture on the defense bill Tuesday, likely setting up a vote Thursday to end an expected filibuster of the bill. A final vote would be held either Thursday or Friday.

The Democratic leader said he would schedule a vote on a one-year extension of tax provisions after dealing with the omnibus and defense legislation.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is pushing for a longer-term tax package that would include a permanent extension of charitable tax breaks.

But Reid sees little chance of passing it.

“I think it’s going to be hard to get any new legislation up. We have stuff we have to work through,” he said.