By Erik Wasson
Negotiators make progress on $1T spending bill
Prospects for completing a giant spending bill and avoiding another government shutdown appeared to improve Tuesday, as a top negotiator said a repeat of October’s ObamaCare-driven shutdown could be avoided.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs a subcommittee overseeing health, labor and education spending, told reporters that the $1 trillion omnibus is nearing completion, and both sides should be able to agree on an ObamaCare compromise.
“I’m reasonably satisfied where we are … but for a couple of items that are still unresolved, and hopefully in the next day or two or three those will get resolved,” Harkin said.
Republicans, as an opening position, have pushed to eliminate all discretionary funding for ObamaCare in the omnibus — a position similar to the stance from the fall that led to the 16-day government shutdown.
While the GOP has signaled it wants to avoid a shutdown in this fight, funding for the healthcare law remains a deeply divisive issue within the party, and it's unclear how it will be massaged in the omnibus.
“We are working our way through it. There are ways of getting things done if people agree to be reasonable,” Harkin said.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) are slated to meet Tuesday afternoon to try to get the bill on track to completion. Mikulski said eight out of 12 parts of the bill still were not complete as of Monday night.
Harkin said “objectionable” bill riders, including those related to National Labor Relations Board activities and funding levels for early childhood development programs are an issue, while abortion is not.
“We are close. We are 90 percent of the way there,” he said. “By next week we want to take this up.”
Harkin said he hopes there would be no need for a stopgap continuing resolution to avoid a Jan. 16 shutdown.
Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said after Tuesday’s meeting, members will have a better sense of whether the deadline can be met.
“The healthcare law is a problem. … We’ll see where we are later today,” he said.
Shelby said the defense portion of the bill is not “locked up,” although progress has been made.
The bill fleshes out the $1.012 trillion top-line budget number approved by Congress just before the holiday recess. The top-line splits the difference between the $1.058 trillion Senate budget level and the $967 billion House total.