House poised to vote on $1.3T spending bill

The House is poised to vote on a bipartisan, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill as soon as Thursday, less than 24 hours after GOP leaders unveiled the massive package needed to avert a government shutdown this week.

The legislative text of the bill, totaling 2,232 pages, was released Wednesday evening after lawmakers and the White House debated throughout the day over what the final bill would look like.

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Conservatives complained bitterly about the rushed schedule and lack of transparency, lamenting that GOP leadership gave rank-and-file members little time to read and study what’s in the bill.

“This process looks really bad; it looks swampy,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for the outside conservative group Heritage Action.

Throughout the day Wednesday, lawmakers speculated that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE was upset with the amount of border wall funding — well below his initial request of $25 billion — and that he might veto the package as a result, forcing the third shutdown in as many months.

But after an impromptu White House visit by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) Wednesday afternoon, the White House quickly blasted out a statement saying Trump endorsed the omnibus and pledged to sign it into law.

The apparent confusion surrounding the president’s position on certain provisions has dogged the omnibus talks for days, confounding the Republican negotiators trying to glean his wishes and frustrating the effort of GOP leaders to demonstrate they can govern effectively.

The bipartisan deal — agreed to by Trump and the “Big Four” congressional leaders — capped a week of numerous false starts and delays. GOP leaders had hoped to roll out the omnibus on Monday, then on Tuesday, but those deadlines came and went. On Wednesday, House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE Overnight Energy: Koch backs bill opposing carbon taxes | Lawmakers look to Interior budget to block offshore drilling | EPA defends FOIA process Koch backs House measure opposing carbon taxes MORE (R-La.) had hoped to use an early afternoon vote series to gauge support for the omnibus, but that series got pushed back into the late evening because the bill had still not arrived.

The bill, funding the government through the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, finally landed just after 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Because of the time crunch, Republicans could waive their internal rule that requires the House to vote on legislation at least three calendar days after it was introduced. However, there was also talk in the Capitol that the vote could slip until early Friday morning, before a bipartisan delegation flies to Rochester for the funeral of Rep. Louise SlaughterDorothy (Louise) Louise SlaughterRaces to watch in Tuesday’s primaries Our democracy demands weekend voting Lawmakers remember Slaughter in Capitol ceremony MORE (D-N.Y.).

The omnibus will then head to the Senate, which plans to take up the bill on Friday if all senators agree to a speedy vote. If anyone objects, like Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Nation editor: Reaction by most of the media to Trump-Putin press conference 'is like mob violence' Lewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Rand Paul to travel to Russia after downplaying election meddling MORE (R-Ky.) did last month, Congress may need to pass a days-long stopgap measure to stave off a shutdown at midnight Saturday. The government is currently operating under its fifth continuing resolution (CR), and GOP leaders are scrambling to avoid the embarrassing optics of requiring a sixth.

To finalize the package Wednesday, party leaders had to iron out a handful of stubborn wrinkles that remained after weeks of tense negotiations. The most prominent of those included:

 

  • A deal on the Gateway tunnel project connecting New York and New Jersey. The project can receive up to $541 million in federal funds, far short of the $900 million that Congress originally authorized and that Trump opposed.

  • A narrow background check bill for gun purchases known as the Fix NICS Act, as well as grants to make schools safer after last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school. A third provision, backed by Democrats, would allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as a public health issue, something banned under a law known as the Dickey Amendment.

  • More than $1 billion for border security and new surveillance technology — funding demanded by Trump — though with restrictions, demanded by the Democrats, that the money can’t underwrite new construction of the border wall Trump promised during the campaign. It provides $641 million for 33 miles of new fences or levees and $630 million for repairs, technology enhancements and related efforts.

  • More than $4 billion in additional money to fight the opioid crisis.

  • A fix for the so-called grain glitch, a provision of the new GOP tax law that critics say harms grain companies. In exchange for the fix, Ryan agreed to Democrats’ demand for an expansion of the low-income housing tax credit.

GOP leadership has pitched the omnibus, based on a two-year budget deal agreed to last month, as a huge win for the military. It would boost defense spending by $80 billion in fiscal 2018 and give troops a 2.4 percent pay raise.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for the United States military,” Ryan said in a statement Wednesday night. “With the biggest increase in defense funding in 15 years, this critical legislation begins to reverse the damage of the last decade and allows us to create a 21st-century fighting force.”

But at a conservative event at the Capitol on Wednesday, leaders of the House Freedom Caucus railed at the huge price tag of the omnibus and at the closed-door process of how it came together.

Without having seen the text yet, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (R-N.C.), who is close to Trump, predicted that the “wins for conservatives will be few and far between.”

“It is troubling when we get a tunnel and we don't get a wall,” Meadows said.

His close ally, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFormer OSU wrestlers sue university over sex abuse allegations Freedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations Lawsuit alleges USA Diving ignored sexual abuse of divers MORE (R-Ohio), took it further, urging Trump to veto the spending bill.    

"I'm voting against it ... and if the bill passes the way it is, I hope the White House does veto," Jordan said. "But I think it's not good for the American taxpayer, not consistent, anywhere close to consistent, to what we said we would do when they elected us in 2016."

A short while later, Ryan set off for the White House to convince Trump that the deal was a good one and to try to quash any further veto chatter. In addition to Ryan and Trump, Vice President Pence, chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and White House legislative affairs director Marc Short were on hand. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE (R-Ky) called into the 45-minute meeting.

The spur-of-the-moment visit by Ryan apparently paid off. Within minutes of his departure, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying Trump backed the omnibus. Another White House official said Trump intended to sign it into law.

“The President and the leaders discussed their support for the bill, which includes more funds to rebuild the military, such as the largest pay raise for our troops in a decade, more than 100 miles of new construction for the border wall and other key domestic priorities, like combating the opioid crisis and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” Sanders said in the statement.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.