Bipartisan negotiators hammering out the details of a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Compromise has come slowly as the sides have haggled over partisan policy amendments as well as a separate package — running on a parallel track — to extend a long list of tax breaks to businesses and individuals alike.
“They've made a lot of progress in recent days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes Senate votes to block financial adviser rule Reid defends embattled VA secretary MORE (R-Ky.) said on the chamber floor. “We'll continue to consult and engage with colleagues as we make further progress on these last two significant items we must complete this year.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes The Trail 2016: Digging up dirt MORE (D-Nev.) echoed that message. He emphasized that “we're not there yet,” but said both sides are working hard to forge a compromise, which he's hoping will be unveiled “sooner rather than later.”
“Many of us in the Senate and the House and our staffs worked through the weekend and have made a lot of progress,” Reid said. “Keeping the federal government open and funded is a congressional responsibility. I'm confident we will fulfill that most basic constitutional duty.”
Both chambers last week passed a five-day continuing resolution, or CR, to buy negotiators more time to hash out an agreement that can pass through Congress and win President Obama's signature. If lawmakers fail to act before Thursday, large parts of the government would shut down — a scenario both McConnell and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanReport: Ryan close to endorsing Trump Menendez opposing Puerto Rico debt bill Overnight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win MORE (R-Wis.) have vowed to prevent.
As some indication that the talks are bearing fruit, those leading the talks have appeared relaxed as they head to the finish line. Ryan and his kids, for instance, were spotted at Lambeau Field on Sunday for the Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys football game.
A slew of policy amendments, known as riders, have been the major sticking point, and a Democratic aide cautioned Monday that, while there was forward momentum over the weekend, “significant issues remain.”
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong delivered a similar message.
“Negotiations continued throughout the weekend and progress was made but there is no deal yet and the discussions continue,” she said.
Ryan has pledged he’ll abide by the GOP’s three-day rule to give lawmakers enough time to read the massive bill.
That means if the package isn’t introduced until Tuesday, the House vote will be pushed to Thursday, forcing Congress to pass yet another short-term funding extension.
Adding to the pressure facing lawmakers, Obama has said he’ll support brief spending patches to allow Congress a window to finalize a long-term deal, but he won’t sign another extended CR.
The contentious riders span a range of issues, from Wall Street reform and environmental policy to labor regulations and a Republican bill halting President Obama’s Syrian refugee program to ensure tougher screenings.
The underlying clash — pitting Ryan against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a fierce negotiator — has created the ongoing impasse and raised questions about the timing and content of a final deal.
GOP leaders are scrambling to demonstrate they can govern effectively since winning both chambers of Congress. The 16-day shutdown of 2013 damaged the Republican brand, if only temporarily, and both Ryan and McConnell want to avoid a similar crisis this year.
Complicating their task, conservatives in both chambers are pressuring leadership to include a wish list of conservative policy riders. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are fighting to strip those same provisions from the package and add a few priorities of their own. The Democrats don't control Congress, but have significant leverage in the form of the Senate filibuster and the president's veto pen.
Pelosi and the Democrats appear ready to accept a major policy change by allowing an end to the current ban on crude oil exports — a reform long sought by the petroleum industry and Republicans on Capitol Hill. But the Democrats’ compromise won’t come without significant concessions from across the aisle, and the prolonged stalemate appears largely rooted in the fight over what the Democrats can win in return for the oil export provision.
The debate has become intermingled with the battle over the separate tax extenders proposal. After a series of short-term extensions, lawmakers in both parties want to make many of those tax breaks permanent. But Pelosi and House Democrats say the tax package, in its current form, is both too big and tilts too heavily in favor of corporations at the expense of individuals and federal revenues.
Pelosi has pushed to index the child tax credit to inflation, which Republicans oppose. Even then, Pelosi has warned, the package would have trouble finding support among House Democrats.
“From my standpoint, and some of my members even think with extenders indexation in it they wouldn't be for the bill, because it's too big,” Pelosi said Friday. “It undermines our ability to get something done for the future.”
As a fallback, GOP leaders in both chambers have readied legislation providing shorter-term tax relief to the various interests.
Jordain Carney contributed.