The House is poised to pass a bipartisan $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government, with GOP and Democratic whip teams going into overdrive to boost their numbers before the Friday morning vote.
Democratic leaders have voiced numerous objections to the package, particularly the inclusion of an end to a ban on crude oil exports and the failure to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. But with the White House urging support — and dozens of conservatives expected to buck GOP leaders and vote no — the Democrats are also scrambling to convince wary rank-and-file members that the current package is the best they can get.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who both endorsed the massive omnibus bill, were personally pressing undecided members and “working it,” according to a whip team member.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanDisconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page Overnight Tech: Dem wants to see FCC chief's net neutrality plans | New agency panel on telecom diversity | Trump calls NASA astronaut Poll: Disapproval growing of Paul Ryan, GOP Congress MORE (R-Wis.) and his top lieutenants appeared much more relaxed than their Democratic counterparts. Still, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and other leaders were making calls, sending text messages and buttonholing colleagues on the floor to drive up their vote total, lawmakers and aides said.
Ryan huddled in his office Thursday afternoon with members of the Western Caucus, who griped that he didn’t do enough during the negotiations to fight against environmental regulations, an attendee said.
But by the end of the meeting, Ryan had flipped a couple of “no” votes to “yes.”
“It will pass,” a senior GOP lawmaker close to leadership said without hesitation.
Providing the omnibus some momentum, the House on Thursday passed legislation extending a series of expired tax breaks — many of them permanently — with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 318 to 109. The spending bill, if it passes Friday, will be combined with the tax proposal and delivered to the Senate as one package.
Leaders from both parties stayed in close contact Wednesday and Thursday as they swapped their respective vote tallies, even as those numbers remained fluid. Senior lawmakers familiar with the whip operations said Republicans would likely need to deliver 120 votes and Democrats 100 votes to ship the bill over to the Senate before leaving for the holidays.
Ryan is hoping for a big GOP vote — a majority of the majority, or roughly 124 Republicans — to signal that the conference has turned a corner from the days of his predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio), who faced a conservative revolt every time he tried to bring a bipartisan spending bill to the floor.
Earlier Thursday, members of the Democratic whip team said they had only locked up about 80 supporters on their side. But by late afternoon, all of the arm-twisting by leaders and vote-counters was beginning to pay off.
“I think everything is back on track and the votes will be there tomorrow morning,” said a member of the Democratic whip team.
Pelosi, who negotiated the omnibus with Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDisconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page GOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall Overnight Tech: Dem wants to see FCC chief's net neutrality plans | New agency panel on telecom diversity | Trump calls NASA astronaut MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.), said the provision lifting the 40-year ban on crude oil exports is "the biggest obstacle” as she pitches the compromise to wary Democrats.
But the oil provision, she added, allowed the Democrats to win major concessions from the Republicans on a long list of other issues, from the environment and labor protections to banking reforms and the Syrian refugee program.
"Republicans’ desperate thirst for lifting the oil export ban empowered Democrats to win significant concessions throughout the Omnibus, including ridding the bill of scores of deeply destructive poison pill riders," Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues Thursday night.
Pelosi on Wednesday had huddled separately with members of the Progressive Caucus and Tri-Caucus, which consists of black, Hispanic and Asian American Democrats. In both meetings she got an earful, according to a number of attendees, and the criticisms continued at a Democratic Caucus meeting on Thursday morning.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said he's opposing the omnibus because Republicans stripped out a Democratic proposal to help Puerto Rican leaders manage their debt crisis. He suggested Democratic negotiators didn't fight hard enough, and urged a reopening of the talks.
"I don't know if we negotiated from a position of power in this," he said. "And I, for one, am not going to go to Florida, and talk to 1 million Puerto Ricans in Florida, and tell them to vote Democrat if the Democrats can't stand up for the Puerto Ricans today."
Still, other top liberals are lining up behind the measure, providing cover to Democrats who had been reluctant to support it.
Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and David Price (D-N.C.), two top appropriators, both announced Thursday on the House floor that they'll grudgingly back the deal. And Hoyer, the Democratic whip, also threw his weight behind the measure.
"I believe we can do better, especially when it comes to making investments in areas that grow our economy, such as infrastructure, research, innovation, higher education, and workforce development," Hoyer said.
"But I will support this omnibus, and I urge my colleagues to support this omnibus, because we must not let the perfect stand in the way of the practical and the appropriate."
Ryan, meanwhile, has sought to mollify the Democratic criticisms over the Puerto Rico debt crisis by vowing to tackle the issue, through regular order, early next year. That promise has won some praise from Democrats, who nonetheless say the delay is both harmful and unnecessary.
Complicating the debate, a number of heavyweight groups are split on the issue and have ramped up their lobbying ahead of Friday's vote. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable are all urging support for the omnibus, while Heritage Action and the Club for Growth are drumming up opposition.
One thing lawmakers agree on is a desire to put 2015 behind them. Many were anxious to vote quickly and begin their long holiday recess, where Christmas dinners, vacations to Machu Picchu and congressional delegations await them.
And there are other pressing matters to tend to this weekend: Several lawmakers said after Friday’s vote they were flying directly to Dayton, Ohio, where GOP Rep. Mike Turner is tying the knot on Saturday with his fiancée, Majida Mourad.