Issues remain as clock ticks on omnibus

Appropriators have just four days to complete work on this year’s spending bills, and dozens of thorny issues have yet to be resolved.

The lawmakers want to produce a bill by Monday to have it on the floor by next Thursday, a day before the temporary spending bill runs out.

Under House rules, bills must be released three days prior to a vote.

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Three of the nine bills in the omnibus package — for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, for Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency and for Financial Services — are so problematic that appropriators could simply punt on them.

That would entail enacting a continuing resolution for those bills that keeps in place 2010 policies, a scenario appropriators are trying to avoid. The other six bills would be updated and a government shutdown avoided, however.

Members said the top-line spending number will be $1.050 trillion, which includes $7 billion in disaster aid. The White House had requested $11.3 billion in disaster aid above the $1.043 trillion spending cap set in the August debt deal, so the $1.050 trillion figure represents a compromise.

Lawmakers said the Labor bill is the most likely simply to be a CR.

“Nobody thought it would get done,” said Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio).

He added, however, that there was no chance of a government shutdown.

House and Senate appropriators convened a conference committee on the omnibus bill on Thursday and will work through the weekend to try to resolve their differences.

“I hope that we realize that we have a short period of time here and working out a compromise especially on the riders ... we have to be done quickly. If there are too many contentious riders we are going to have a problem with House Democrats on passing these bills,” House Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said.

“We don’t want to let the American people down again. Our reputation is not good. And if we fall apart ... we are the last bastion of getting anything done around here,” he said.

Democrats say House Republicans need them to pass the omnibus since at least 50 GOP members vowed in September not to vote for any appropriations package that does not cut spending below the August debt ceiling top-line number.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the lead negotiator on the Interior bill, said punting would be a disaster, and noted that the EPA would get lower funding under a continuing resolution than under his bill.

“It means no new starts ... no new programs,” he said.

Simpson said he is hopeful of resolution on his bill, but Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who is also negotiating the bill, said he is not.

“There’s nine that we have agreed to and there’s 14 we are negotiating,” Moran said of the riders. “There are at least 17 very serious efforts to re-legislate environmental policy that we cannot accept.”

Moran said that the Interior bill would have to be decided upon on Thursday, saying Simpson “knows where we stand.”  He said Democrats are willing to negotiate on some issues like regulations related to ranching and methane gas, but will not accept the major environmental riders. He also said members of the appropriations committee are being reasonable but that the House GOP caucus is causing problems.

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) said the financial services bill is also in trouble — he said provisions in the bill banning the District of Columbia from funding abortion providers and needle exchanges for drug users remain problems, and that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is not relenting on those in the talks.

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Serrano said a provision in the bill allowing greater ties with Cuba also remains a holdup.

On the Financial Services bill, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) said the pro-life D.C. rider has been “kicked upstairs” for the leaders to deal with. She said the White House does not want a continuing resolution for the Financial Services bill, which she is negotiating, so it is likely to be completed.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is not on the committee but is a leader of House conservatives, said conservatives expect all pro-life riders that have been in previous appropriations bills to be included. He said negotiations are happening on a new pro-life rider in the Labor bill meant to ensure healthcare providers are not forced to perform abortions against their will.

“We are talking about that one,” he said.

Riders defunding President Obama’s healthcare overhaul and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul remain on the table as well.

On Wednesday, appropriators agreed on the defense spending bill portion of the legislation.

An informed committee source said that bill comes in at $518 billion. That is $5 billion above 2011 funding, and congressional leaders are arguing that passing the omnibus, and avoiding a CR, locks in this crucial national security increase.

The spending level is $12 billion less than the House originally wanted for the bill.


—Updated at 3:25 p.m.

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