Clock ticks down on funding bill

Clock ticks down on funding bill
© Greg Nash

House GOP leaders said Congress could miss the critical Friday deadline to pass a government funding bill, raising the likelihood that lawmakers will need to pass a short-term measure to avert a shutdown.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Dem moves to force vote on bill protecting Mueller Collins: 'Extremely disappointing' ObamaCare fix left out of spending deal House poised to vote on .3T spending bill MORE (R-Wis.) said Monday “it might take us more than just this week” to finish the omnibus spending bill and renew a package of expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

Ryan’s top deputy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), raised the possibility of a rare weekend session to give the lower chamber more time to wrap up its end-of-the year business.

“I’m seriously looking at having us in on Friday and maybe even this weekend to get our work done,” McCarthy, who controls the floor schedule, said during a briefing with reporters in his office.

Top Republicans insist there won’t be a repeat of the 2013 government shutdown, which failed to defund ObamaCare and briefly damaged the party in the polls.

But President Obama has vowed that he won’t sign another stopgap funding measure, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), and the White House on Monday amplified that warning. One exception would be if lawmakers reach a deal but need extra time to draft the bill.

“The president’s not going to sign a CR that will give members of Congress additional time to negotiate,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Bipartisan appropriators had hoped they could roll out their omnibus package on Monday and pass it by Friday, then leave Washington early for the holidays. But after a round of talks over the weekend, a dispute over legislative additions was still holding up the process, aides said.  

Earnest warned that there are “dozens” of GOP riders the president won’t accept. He declined to define what constitutes a deal-killer — “This is one of those things that when you see it, you know it,” he said — but he did specify that Obama wouldn’t support any effort to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law or toughen screenings for Syrian refugees.  

Those two provisions were a part of the GOP’s initial offer but rejected by Democrats.

As lawmakers race to respond to last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, a potential substitute to the refugees rider might be a bipartisan bill making it tougher for some foreigners to visit the U.S. without visas. The House on Tuesday is set to pass a standalone version of that visa-waiver proposal, which later could be tucked inside the omnibus.

For now, negotiators from both parties have declined to identify the specific sticking points. If history is any guide, the silence from the leaders and appropriators negotiating the package could be an indication that a deal is imminent.

“This all appears to be standard posturing. I’m still optimistic we’ll figure it out,” said one senior GOP lawmaker familiar with the negotiations. “They’re pushing for very limited riders; we are pushing for more.”

Democrats, meanwhile, remember well how the 2013 shutdown damaged the Republican brand in the eyes of voters.

Perhaps with that in mind, Democratic leaders have taken every opportunity to accuse the Republicans of risking another shutdown by taking the spending negotiations to the deadline.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump presses GOP to change Senate rules Only thing Defense’s UFO probe proves is power of political favors Nevada Democrat accused of sexual harassment reconsiders retirement: report MORE (D-Nev.) said Monday that it’s the Republican “poison pill” riders that remain the sticking point. He didn’t mention any Democratic provisions of the same ilk.

“If the Congress fails to finish our business by Dec. 11, it will be because Republicans continue to insist on extraneous poison-pill riders,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “These are Republican riders, Republicans’ earmarks. As long as they are there, there can be no legislation. Without legislation, the government shuts down again.”

McCarthy suggested part of the impasse is based on a Democratic power struggle over who should be negotiating the deal. Without naming names, he said Democratic leaders were pushing appropriators out of the talks, something he said Ryan had not done.

“Some [Democrats] have been withheld from being able to negotiate,” the GOP leader said.

But a spokesman for New York Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democratic appropriator, called McCarthy’s suggestion “absurd.”

“He’s just making mischief,” spokesman Matthew Dennis said in an email. “He should concentrate on the issues within his own conference.

“Lowey,” Dennis added, “remains in the middle of this.”