Ryan wants strong GOP votes on spending and tax deals

Congressional leaders have agreed to the core components of a nearly $2 trillion year-end tax and spending deal, but they still have to figure out how to structure it so it can pass the House with strong Republican votes, according to sources familiar with the talks. 

The votes will be the first test of newly elected Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanKenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 At indoor rally, Pence says election runs through Wisconsin Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates MORE’s (R-Wis.) leadership, and he is proceeding carefully to make sure he has as many GOP votes as possible for the spending and tax packages. They are expected to move separately in the lower chamber.

ADVERTISEMENT

The omnibus spending bill is $1.1 trillion, and the tax package earlier this month was estimated in the range of $600 to $800 billion.

Ryan wants to avoid a last-minute embarrassment in which he has to pull legislation off the floor because it doesn’t have enough votes.

He held a conference call with Republican colleagues Monday night to brief them on the emerging deal and to build unity.  

He said an agreement on both items was very close. 

"Nothing is completed yet but negotiations are almost finished," said one of the GOP lawmakers on the call.

The Speaker also reiterated his pledge to wait three days before holding votes on the bills to give lawmakers time to read them. That would mean the House would vote on Thursday at the earliest.

Ryan has emphasized he will scrupulously adhere to the chamber’s three-day rule, something his predecessor, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLongtime House parliamentarian to step down Five things we learned from this year's primaries Bad blood between Pelosi, Meadows complicates coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ohio), occasionally ignored, drawing the fury of rank-and-file conservatives.

The spending bill reflects the budget deal agreed to in late October, a problem for many conservatives because it busted the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Increasing the possibility of a conservative backlash, many of the policy riders Republican leaders have pushed for will be left out of the deal.

One way to sweeten the vote for Republicans is adding policy riders that Democrats can live with, such as a provision lifting the ban on oil exports.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (D-N.D.), a leading proponent of lifting the ban, said Monday evening she is “very optimistic” it will be included.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) warned Republican colleagues last month that it would be critical to pass the omnibus with well more than half the GOP conference. He set an ambitious target of 150 Republican yeses.

“While we always strive to reach 218 with Republican votes, sometimes that is not possible with divided government, and the story of a bill that passed with 150 Republican votes is much more positive and assertive than the story of a bill that passes with 79 Republican votes,” Scalise wrote. 

The other deal, an extension of a variety of expiring tax provisions, is also a fiscal headache because it would add to the deficit. But it’s less of a problem because Congress routinely extends them in short-term bills.

The pending deal would make permanent important business tax breaks, such as the research and development tax credit and the Section 179 small-business expensing deduction, as well as expansions of the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition, all core pieces of the 2009 fiscal stimulus.

"I'm hoping for the bigger deal," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  MORE (R-Utah). "I'm hopeful we'll get it done, and I'm hopeful we can do it this week."

Senate sources say leaders on their side of the Capitol were ready to sign off on both bills days ago, but the main holdup has been the question of to put the jigsaw puzzle together in a way to win strong votes in the House.

“The tax bill seems to be in better shape. The tax relief bill is in better shape than the [omnibus] from what I can tell,” said Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Romney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery MORE (R-Ohio), a member of the Finance Committee, who noted that he is not directly involved in the talks.

Senate Republican leaders said they hoped to have all the pieces put together by Tuesday and even expressed a glimmer of hope that it might be resolved before midnight Monday. 

“We hope to get to it tomorrow, maybe even tonight, but it’s still a work in progress,” Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court MORE (Texas) said Monday before a 5:30 pm vote.

Just over an hour later, Ryan quashed the prospect of unveiling something later in the evening.

He told lawmakers the spending and tax extenders bills would not be posted until Tuesday, according to several lawmakers who participated on the conference call.

As a result, the House will not be able to vote on the bills until Thursday, which means Congress will have to pass another stopgap measure to extend government funding, which expires Wednesday.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate McConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden MORE (Ill.) confirmed the omnibus bill would not pass by the Dec. 16 funding deadline.

"We'll have to extend it," he said. "The obvious question is when are they going to file it over in the House."

Durbin said the oil export ban remains an outstanding issue.

"The conversations I've heard have had to do with energy and tax extenders," he said.

Another source familiar with the talks said the oil export provision had gotten the green light from Democrats and said the biggest remaining question was over what package to put it in.

Adding it to the omnibus would likely muster more GOP votes, but it could also cost the votes of some pro-environment Democrats.

Durbin said the House is expected to vote on the omnibus and tax extenders package separately and for them to be merged into one mega-deal, already dubbed the “Taxibus,” before a Senate vote.

"The theory is the House will consider two votes and then they will merge them to send them to us for one vote," he said.

Jordain Carney and Naomi Jagoda contributed.