Leadership allies reject effort to move funding bill to the right

House leadership allies Wednesday night fought off a last-ditch attempt to add conservative provisions to the $1.1 trillion spending package that would have driven away Democratic votes.

The powerful Rules Committee, which decides how exactly a bill will be structured on the floor, rejected a suite of amendments from the House Freedom Caucus that focused on a range of topics, from national security and abortion to environmental regulations

{mosads}While the nearly 40-member Freedom Caucus wasn’t expected to take a formal position on the legislation, the rejection of the group’s amendments will give its members yet another reason to vote against the massive, year-end omnibus bill that funds the government for much of 2016.

“There’s good stuff in there,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), pointing to a GOP-favored provision lifting the 40-year ban on crude oil exports, “but I just can’t get myself to do it.”

Other Freedom members who said they’d vote against the bill include GOP Reps. Dave Brat (Va.), Matt Salmon (Ariz.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) and John Fleming (La.).

Fleming told The Hill it was his impression that almost all Freedom members planned to vote against the omnibus, just as they did with this fall’s two-year budget deal that busted sequester spending caps.

The Rules panel’s decision to leave the bipartisan omnibus largely unchanged clears the way for the bill to pass the House on Friday. The lower chamber is expected to pass a major tax package on Thursday that had been negotiated alongside the spending bill. 

Both bills are expected to clear the Senate and be signed into law by President Obama. 

During the talks over the government funding bill, conservatives had been pushing for a series of policy riders opposed by Democrats. But the deal that emerged Tuesday night showed that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) left most of those provisions on the cutting room floor.

On Wednesday, Freedom Caucus members spent several hours drafting a package of amendments that resembled many of those same riders. Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) offered the Freedom group’s proposal at the Rules meeting Wednesday evening.

Perhaps the most notable amendment was the American SAFE Act, which passed the House on a big, bipartisan vote in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. It would toughen screening for refugees coming to the U.S. from Syria and Iraq — countries where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has a strong presence.

But Democrats said the refugee bill was a nonstarter in the spending talks, and President Obama had threatened to veto any measure that included it.

Another Freedom-backed amendment would have halted funding for the Obama administration’s stream-protection rule and mining regulations. A third would have killed cybersecurity legislation that encourages companies to share hacking incidents with the government. Freedom members complained the cyber provisions were added to the omnibus at the last minute, with little time for members to review them. 

Finally, the Freedom group offered three abortion-related riders authored by the Pro-Life Caucus. They would have allowed states to determine Medicaid participation for providers who perform or participate in abortions; strengthened protections for organizations that do not want to cover abortions and doctors who do not want to provide them; and eliminated funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which conservatives say backs China’s “coercive birth limitation policy.”

Republicans only won a 7 percent cut to United Nations funding in the spending deal. 

Without the conservative riders, GOP leaders expected the omnibus to easily clear the House with a coalition of moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Republicans from oil-producing states who favor ending the ban on crude-oil exports.

Democrats were expected to supply the majority of the 218 votes needed to pass the spending bill, explaining why GOP negotiators were so intent on keeping controversial, conservative riders out of the final package. One member of the Democratic whip team told The Hill on Wednesday that the party would deliver well north of 100 votes, even as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other liberals openly grumbled about the deal.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) vote-counting team canvassed GOP members on the House floor Wednesday morning, and they plan to do so again during votes on Thursday. Ryan wouldn’t predict how many votes his party would provide for the omnibus on Friday, but a member of the GOP whip team said there were at least 100 Republican votes in favor.

Ryan and his leadership team have urged rank-and-file Republicans to stick together on key votes, like the omnibus bill, arguing that GOP unity gives the party a stronger hand in future negotiations. After Thanksgiving, Scalise went so far as to write a letter criticizing colleagues who frequently vote no but secretly hope legislation passes.

“The vote that hurts our Conference is the no vote from a Member who hopes the bill passes, but relies on others to carry that load,” Scalise wrote. “That vote isn’t fair to the Members who shoulder the responsibility of voting yes, and it isn’t fair to the Republican Conference as a whole.”

Peter Sullivan contributed to this report.

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