Spending bill negotiators face heavy lift

Secretive negotiations on the giant $1 trillion spending bill needed to keep the government open have hit a rough patch ahead of crucial Tuesday face-to-face talks between top lawmakers.
 
The leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees are trying to produce the 12-part omnibus by the end of this week, but so far they are only one-third of the way there, with the toughest issues still ahead.
 
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The spending omnibus fleshes out the details of December's bipartisan budget agreement. The budget set out a $1.012 trillion topline spending level for fiscal 2014, a level $45 billion above the sequester spending cap but $46 billion below President Obama's budget request.
 
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said Monday that only four parts of the bill are done, with eight still remaining to go. 
 
She plans to meet with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) to do some heavy legislative lifting on Tuesday. 
 
Mikulski opened the door to a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open after Jan. 15, if talks continue to be bogged down. 
 
“It depends on how quickly we can get it done this week,” she said.
 
After three weeks of staff-level discussions, ObamaCare funding, the issue that provoked a 16-day government shutdown, is still being fought over, as are hot-button issues like abortion restrictions and environmental regulations.
 
Rogers, who hails from coal country, has long argued the Environmental Protection Agency is out of control. 
 
“We have been working through the entire break and only took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off,” Mikulski said, adding that a meeting with Rogers had been scheduled for Monday evening but had been delayed by freakishly cold weather throughout the country. 
 
“I had been scheduled to talk to him right this minute but his plane’s been delayed,” she said. “Our timeline is pretty tight. I would like us to be able to announce that we have closed out our work by Wednesday, taking it to the leadership.”
 
Rogers spokesperson Jennifer Hing declined to comment on the status of the talks on Monday.
 
Mikulski said unveiling the bill by Thursday or Friday would be needed for both houses of Congress to vote on the omnibus by the Jan. 15 shutdown deadline. 
 
She said provisions governing military construction, Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Commerce, Justice and science funding and Congress’s own budget are all done. 
 
While the VA and the legislative affairs bills are generally the easiest ones to complete, real compromises would have had to been made on gun-related issues in the Justice bill and high speed rail funding in the transportation bill. 
 
The hardest ones remaining are those governing Labor, health, Defense and Interior and environment portions of the omnibus, Mikulski said. 
 
“ObamaCare is a sticking point, abortion is always a sticking point in every negotiation,” she said. “I am trying to get rid of as many riders as we can. With ObamaCare, it is the law of the land: We need to fund it; we need to make it work.”