Watchdogs brace for surprises in massive $1.014T spending bill

Outside groups are bracing for surprises in the massive government-funding bill the Congress is expected to consider next week.

The $1.014 trillion bill funding most of the government through September 2015 is one of the last trains out of the station, as the 113th Congress is set to close shop on Friday.

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That means it could be a final chance for lobbyists and lawmakers alike to find a vehicle for their priorities.

“We’re ready to be surprised,” said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, which regularly highlights hidden measures included in funding bills.

Appropriators preparing the bill are keeping a tight lid on its contents. They are expected to release the legislation on Monday.

The government will shutdown on Dec. 12 if Congress does not approve a new funding measure by then.

The House is expected to vote first on the “cromnibus,” which includes 11 appropriations bills funding agencies through the fiscal year, and a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the Department of Homeland Security for only a few months.

Items that outside groups are watching for include a reversal of D.C.'s recent legalization of marijuana; an attack on President Obama’s environmental regulations; and possibly a provision that could blur the lines of campaign finance laws.

And there could be unforeseen surprises, Ellis and others predicted.

“In the end, nothing surprises me and I’m sure we’re going to be finding stuff out in January or February,” Ellis said. “You have to not just be a speed-reader, but really be a superman to get through all of it.”

Democrats are watching for a GOP rider to prohibit federal funds from being used to subsidize insurance plans that provide abortion services.

Some liberals are also worried about a rider to reverse D.C.’s new pot law, though others say that would be a long shot.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, has reportedly been pushing to attach a rider that would end limits imposed on coordinating spending between campaign committees and candidates.

“We would watch it with great concern because of the fact that it could open the door to special interests having more influence over all of federal policy and certainly the budget than they even do now,” said Lindsay Koshgarian, research director at National Priorities Project, which tracks federal spending.

Koshgarian said she’ll also be on the look-out for how much of the president’s emergency requests are appropriated for the effort to combat Ebola, $6.2 billion, and operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), $5.6 billion.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerCameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in Rubio flies with Obama on Air Force One to Orlando Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan MORE (R-Ohio) this week said he expects Democrats will vote for the funding bill, and it’s expected that GOP leaders will need many Democratic votes given conservative opposition.

Many on the right have argued the GOP should only pass a short-term funding measure, and that it should cut funds for immigration services as a way to bite back at President Obama’s actions on immigration.

Those dynamics will make it tough to include any measures that could cost the bill more Democratic votes.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is attempting to buy some leverage and warned Republicans on Friday that Democrats wouldn’t accept any “destructive riders.”

And Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiOvernight Energy: Senate panel approves EPA spending, rules bill Senate panel breaks with House on cuts to IRS Dems propose to boost DOJ funding by M MORE (D-Md.) has been involved in the negotiations.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have been lobbying appropriators to ensure the spending bill doesn’t contain provisions that would undermine Obama’s rule to reduce carbon emissions at power plants and a proposed rule that would revise the definition of national waters under the Clean Water Act.

Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director, said while her group has been on edge, the inclusion of such a controversial rider is unlikely.

“I’m getting a sense from our conversations on the Hill and the lobbying back in the district that the cromnibus is likely to be clean,” she said. “My sense is Republicans may be holding their fire until they have greater numbers, greater control, greater power.”

One rider that is expected to fly through is a prohibition on funding for the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention center to the United States.

Despite the president’s push to close the prison, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) the House passed Thursday included language that would prohibit that funding.

Koshgarian cautioned not to jump to conclusions too soon about controversial riders getting tossed aside.

“As it comes down to the wire over the next week, we also remember sequestration,” she said, “No one thought that would go through, so never say never.”

 

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