Congress is set to unveil a giant spending bill next week that staff for appropriators have been preparing on a near daily basis throughout the holiday break.
Aides say progress on the $1 trillion, 12-part omnibus legislation has been better than expected at the subcommittee level, and their goal remains to pass the bill through both chambers by Jan. 16 to prevent a government shutdown.
It’s unclear whether top leaders of the House and Senate spending panels will return to Washington to negotiate final details of the deal before Monday. Aides say that decision depends on how much progress staff can make.
One House aide said some obstacles remain on both funding levels for specific projects and on some of the dozens of policy riders that have been proposed during the course of 2013.
Still, the aide struck an optimistic note, saying talks are “going better at this point than many predicted.”
The bill is being developed according to the $1.012 trillion top-line spending cap in the budget agreement forged by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and signed into law by President Obama last week.
Sixty-two House Republicans voted against the budget largely because it exceeded the $967 billion spending cap already on the books for fiscal 2014.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.), one of the "no" votes, told The Hill this week that he could be open to voting for the omnibus, if some policy provisions are included, such as limits on ObamaCare’s implementation.
But he acknowledged his impression from appropriators is they will not risk a new showdown over ObamaCare, which triggered a 16-day government shutdown in October.
To get his vote, Scalise argued at the very least, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) must score wins on energy, defense and homeland security spending provisions.
The House approved Energy and Water, Defense and Homeland Security appropriations bills this summer with numerous amendments, while the full Senate did not vote on companion bills.
“We passed a few appropriations bills, and we put some policy riders that reflect conservative principles,” Scalise said.
He said a final bill at a minimum should reflect GOP policy riders that scale back funding for wasteful green energy programs favored by the Obama administration. Examples of floor amendments include ending funding for green energy advertising and limiting federal agency procurement of alternative fuels.
Energy riders could have a good shot given Rogers's keen interest in helping the coal industry.
Scalise said conservatives would push leaders to allow floor amendments on the omnibus, something that could make completing the bill in just over a week problematic.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who has made fiscal matters his signature issue, said he expected conservatives to offer an amendment to bring the top-line number down to $967 billion.
Another amendment, he said, would trim spending by 1 percent across the board. He said he would push for a House rule that would cover votes on those issues.
Mulvaney was less optimistic about getting policy riders on the omnibus.
He said GOP leaders appear ready to rely on Democrats to pass the omnibus, and as a result, wouldn’t feel the need to push policy riders.
“We were told in no uncertain terms that they would not be coming to us for votes,” he said. “Part of the deal with Democrats also included their support on appropriations.”
He said that “personally, it would be difficult to support” any omnibus at a spending level higher than $967 billion, regardless of policy riders.