What to watch for in Congress’s big spending bill

What to watch for in Congress’s big spending bill
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Lawmakers are moving this month to pass a massive spending bill that would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, sparking a rush of lobbying activity.

The legislation, known as an omnibus, must pass by March 23 to avoid a government shutdown — and it could well be the last major bill to pass Congress before the midterm elections. That’s led Washington insiders to dub the bill the “last train leaving the station.”

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Congressional leaders have long negotiated the addition of “policy riders” to omnibus bills, in part because it is a way to win approval for proposals that might not pass as stand-alone legislation.

Here are some of the major proposals that could be included in this year’s bill.
 
Immigration
The biggest outstanding question for the spending bill is whether it will contain a fix for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE is ending.

Lawmakers have clashed for weeks over what to do about DACA recipients, many of whom have been working, attending school and serving in the military without fear of deportation.

A push to pass an immigration bill faltered in the Senate last month as a series of proposals went down to defeat on the floor, including a plan backed by the White House that would have paired the DACA fix with border security funding and cuts to legal immigration.

Senators are now looking for a fallback plan, including a temporary extension of DACA that would push the issue past the elections. But whether such a proposal would pass Congress or pass muster with Trump remains to be seen.

ObamaCare
Another major issue that could be dealt with in the funding bill is payments for ObamaCare.

Republican leaders are looking for a way to stabilize ObamaCare’s health insurance markets, at least in the short term, by restoring funding canceled by the White House.

GOP Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (Tenn.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins challenger hit with ethics complaints over reimbursements Overnight Health Care: Insurance lobby chief calls Biden, Sanders health plans 'similarly bad' | Trump officials appeal drug price disclosure ruling | Study finds 1 in 7 people ration diabetes medicine due to cost Collins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' reelection would go well if she runs MORE (Maine) and Democratic Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe Democrats demand Trump officials withdraw rule on transgender health The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate MORE (Wash.) are pushing two separate proposals aimed at lowering premiums.

One of the bills would provide two years of government subsidies for insurance companies who treat low-income patients. Collins’s proposal, meanwhile, would create high-risk insurance pools for those with high medical costs.

Lawmakers who are negotiating some combination of the two bills say they’re hopeful that it could be part of the spending package that needs to be completed this month.

House Republican leaders are reportedly eyeing a complicated budget maneuver that would make the ObamaCare payments — known as cost-sharing reductions and reinsurance — without adding extra cost to the omnibus.

That move could make passage of the payments easier, though it would also risk a revolt on the right.

Medicare Part D
Pharmaceutical companies were caught by surprise when the budget deal that passed last month included a provision requiring drug companies cover a larger portion of the “doughnut hole,” a gap in drug coverage for Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

The provision requires drug companies to pick up 70 percent of the cost of prescriptions in the doughnut hole, up from the 50 percent they previously were required to cover.

Lobbyists for the drug industry are now working furiously to try and get the rule changed in the omnibus, in hopes that the share of the costs borne by the industry can be lowered.

“Every percentage point counts,” one lobbyist familiar with the issue told The Hill last month.

Campaign finance
Evangelical leaders have been clamoring under Trump for action to roll back the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other nonprofits from donating and promoting political campaigns.

But a large swath of the nonprofit community opposes rolling back the Johnson Amendment, as do many religious groups.

Lawmakers in favor of easing the Johnson Amendment say it infringes on the free speech of religious groups, while opponents say it essentially makes the donations tax deductible.

House Republicans included a provision rolling back the amendment in their version of tax legislation last year, but the Senate parliamentarian struck it out, ruling it wasn’t relevant to the budget.
 
Waters of the United States rule
House Republicans have for years sought to repeal or change a 2015 rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), known as Waters of the United States, that puts rivers, lakes and marshes under the purview of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Republicans tried to attach a policy rider on the rule to a spending bill in 2015, but Democrats refused to allow it.

GOP lawmakers have derided the regulations as an undue power grab by the government, and the EPA under Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittControversial husband and wife EPA duo to leave Washington Environmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels Six states sue EPA over pesticide tied to brain damage MORE has taken steps to replace it.

Still, it’s possible that a new provision related to the regulation could make it into the omnibus.
 
Endangered Species Act
The House in spending legislation sought to downsize the Endangered Species Act, including eliminating federal protection of animals such as the sage grouse and the gray wolf.

While those proposals didn’t pass the Senate, opponents of the changes fear they could reemerge in the spending bill.

Republicans argue that the federal program is overbearing and maintains protections for animals long after they are needed. Democrats and environmental groups counter that the protections are needed to prevent species from again reaching the brink of extinction.

Another policy rider that could be in the mix would invalidate an Interior Department rule that protected bears and other carnivores in Alaska and ban the National Park Service from taking action against several controversial hunting techniques, like shooting animals in their dens.
 
Joint employer
Last month, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officially reinstated an Obama-era definition of what it means to be a “joint employer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, much to the chagrin of corporations.

The definition holds that a worker can hold a parent company liable for the actions of its franchisees or other companies that contract with it. Republicans argue that the rule is federal overreach, and legislation to revert the joint employer standard to the pre-2015 decision passed the House last November with eight votes from Democrats.

There are other matters relating to the joint employer standard that are pending before the NLRB, and there is heavy pressure from business groups to roll back the definition.
 
Tax law
Republicans who authored the tax-cut legislation enacted in December are scrambling to change an aspect of the bill that has major unintended consequences for the agriculture industry.

The last-minute addition to the tax law states that cooperatives will be treated like pass-through businesses whose earnings are taxed as ordinary income. The provision was included so that farmers could receive a large tax write-off for selling to grain co-ops.

But it turns out that the provision, in practice, disincentives farmers from selling not only to large agricultural companies like Cargill, but also independent family-owned businesses not structured under co-ops.

Lawmakers hailing from farm states, including Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces White House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord MORE (R-Iowa) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.), have led the charge to revise the provision, but whether they will succeed remains to be seen.
 
Peter Sullivan contributed.