Ten things to watch in spending fight

Congress has less than a week to complete one more spending package to prevent a government shutdown.

This week’s fight will center on the cost of the package, controversial policy language and the desire by both parties to get out of Washington in time for the holidays.

Here’s The Hill’s list of what to look for in the coming days:

1. What is the package’s total cost?

The nine-bill omnibus is set to cost more than $1 trillion, but it is not clear by how much. 

The final price tag includes all the spending for the nine bills plus spending for the global war on terror. The spending on the nine regular bills is limited by the August debt-ceiling deal to about $915 billion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Appropriators have agreed to limit the base Defense bill to $518 billion, $12 billion below what the House GOP wanted, but likely have shifted expenses into the war funding account to make up for this reduction. For comparison's sake, the House wanted $127 billion in total war funding, including $119 billion for the Pentagon. The Pentagon asked for $117 billion. 

2. How much emergency disaster aid is included?

This is another key part of determining the package’s total cost.

The August debt-ceiling deal set a top-line spending limit in 2012 of $1.043 trillion for all 12 appropriations bills, but also permits additional disaster spending of up to $11.3 billion.

House Republicans want to limit total funding to $1.050 trillion. The number is symbolically important since 2011 spending ended up at $1.050 trillion. 

If a higher figure is needed to pay for more disaster aid, it could increase GOP defections during votes in the House and Senate. 

3. What abortion riders does the bill include?

Republicans are under pressure to keep tough anti-abortion-rights language in the omnibus; the Family Research Council’s Tom McClusky said his group will “take down the bill” if existing riders are weakened.

One of the riders the conservative group is trying to protect was included in the 2011 spending bill, and limits the ability of the District of Columbia to spend money on abortions.

The group also wants to defund Planned Parenthood and the U.N. Population Fund, and prevent non-governmental organizations that receive federal funding from promoting abortions, but is not threatening to torpedo the bill over those new riders. 

4. Will the omnibus be released by Monday night?

If the House wants to adjourn by Friday, getting the bill out Monday night is critical. It would allow for a vote by Thursday, given House rules that a bill must be publicly available for three calendar days before a vote. 

That would give the Senate at least a full day to act before the stopgap spending measure runs out after Friday. Floor time in the upper chamber is precious since the Senate also hopes to move a payroll tax bill and a defense authorization bill this week. 

A missed Monday night deadline increases the likelihood of weekend work and passage of a stopgap continuing resolution that would fund the government for a few days.

5. Does it include the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill? 

This is the most contentious of the nine spending bills, as it would cut off funding for the new healthcare law and contains many riders related to unions. Democrats say they aren’t going to agree to defund healthcare reform, but it is difficult for Rep. Denny Rehberg (Mont.), the lead GOP negotiator on the bill, to back down. 

Rehberg is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in 2012 and is worried that signing on to a bill that funds President Obama’s healthcare reform efforts will hurt his chances for capturing the Senate seat.

If compromise can't be reached, a stopgap spending bill will be used for the agencies covered by the bill. But as of Monday morning, the bill was on track to be in the package.   

6. Does it include the Interior, Environment spending bill?

After the Labor, HHS bill, this is the most controversial bill, as it includes 17 major riders blocking environmental initiatives. 

The riders in the bill vary greatly in scope. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said Democrats are willing to compromise on other issues such as livestock management regulations, but are not willing to compromise on major riders like one preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing a climate change regime. 

The president has held out the threat of letting the EPA regulate greenhouse gases as a prod to try to get Congress to come up with a climate change bill. The rider would take that valuable prod away. 

As of Monday morning, the bill was on track to be in the package. 

7. Does it include the Financial Services, General Government bill?

White House Budget Director Jack Lew is keen to see this bill enacted. As Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) explained Friday, resorting to a continuing resolution for this section would cause massive problems for government building leases and for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Key issues involve a provision that would subject the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the annual appropriations process and one that would stop the Internal Revenue Service from implementing the requirement in the Obama healthcare law that individuals buy health insurance.

Other riders limit the ability of the District of Columbia to spend money on abortion services and needle exchange programs, as well as one that would prevent Cuba immigrants from traveling to and sending money to Cuba.

As of Monday morning, this bill was on track to be in the package.

8. How do Dodd-Frank, Obama’s healthcare reform and Race to the Top fare?           

Lew said Obama would veto a bill that threatens the healthcare law and Wall Street reform. But the White House might sign legislation that cuts into Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative, which rewards highly performing school districts with grant funding, to get a deal.

9. How many Republicans defect?

There will be GOP defections on the omnibus. The question is how many.

Fifty Republicans have threatened to vote against any spending bill that does not cut spending below the $1.043 trillion top line number, but 101 Republicans voted against a three-bill minibus in November. The number was larger than expected in part because the minibus did not limit the Federal Housing Administration’s ability to back mortgages in a way conservatives liked. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The vote on the omnibus will be another moment testing the power of the Tea Party, the limits of leadership to control restive conservative members, and the ability of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to make House Democrats relevant in spending negotiations. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will have to depend on some Democratic votes to get the package through. 

10. Does it become the vehicle for the payroll tax bill or other priorities?

The omnibus could be packaged with the payroll tax cut extension into one super package, though it seems unlikely. 

Leadership on both sides seem to be betting that a government shutdown crisis is not in anyone’s advantage, with congressional approval ratings in the single digits. Because of this, chances of a risky super-package are slim.

That being said, stranger things have happened in Congress.