House

Congress races to finish $1.2 trillion funding bill

Greg Nash

Congress is on the verge of unveiling a $1.2 trillion government funding package that would provide the biggest increase to federal spending in years.

But some conservatives have balked at the price tag of the omnibus, while members from both parties are worried that leaders will attach controversial “poison pill” riders to the funding measure at the last minute.

Still, appropriators are hopeful that they will be able to resolve any outstanding issues and attract enough bipartisan support to avoid a government shutdown by Friday’s deadline.{mosads}

“The decisions that need to be made still — there’s a lot fewer of them,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, told reporters Thursday. “I think we’ll get there. It depends on this weekend.”

Lawmakers have been eager to unlock the major spending boosts that were provided by last month’s budget deal and break the cycle of temporary patches that have kept funding levels frozen since September.

The sweeping, two-year budget deal that Congress passed in February increases defense spending by $80 billion and nondefense spending by $63 billion for fiscal 2018.

Appropriators and their staff have been working around the clock to wrap up work on the funding package, which would fund the government through the end of September. The text of the measure is expected to be released Monday night.

The House is aiming to vote on the bill Wednesday, leaving the Senate just a few days to pass it and avoid a government shutdown on Friday at midnight.

Government funding briefly lapsed last month after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slowed down Senate proceedings over federal spending concerns.

Lawmakers have expressed confidence that there won’t be another government shutdown or a continuing resolution of funding this week.

“I think the real pressure here is probably from the defense hawks, who really went to get out of the cycle of [continuing resolutions] and sequesters,” Cole said. “So I think that actually pushes us through in some other areas that might normally cause you a problem.” 

But they aren’t out of the woods just yet.

Since the omnibus is one of the last legislative trains leaving the station before the midterm elections, members have been scrambling to attach a variety of pet issues to the bill, holding up its release.

One of the biggest outstanding issues is whether the omnibus will include more than $900 million for a rail and tunnel project that is critical to the Northeast corridor.

President Trump has threatened to veto the spending bill if it contains money for the multibillion dollar Gateway project, which is a top priority for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

A group of House Republicans from New York and New Jersey met with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday to emphasize the importance of the project to their home states. While Ryan supports Gateway, he also pointed out the president’s opposition and urged lawmakers to work it out with the administration. 

New York Rep. Pete King (R) said he spoke “extensively” with Trump during Thursday’s St. Patrick’s Day lunch about the topic, but hesitated to say whether the president has softened his stance.

“I’m optimistic that it will be in the omnibus bill,” Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) told The Hill on Thursday.

A contentious dispute over abortion language — a perennial sticking point in the spending bill debate — has also stalled the omnibus. 

There has been talk of adding a bipartisan deal to stabilize ObamaCare to the spending measure. But Republicans are insisting that a rule known as the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal money from being used to fund abortion and is included in annual spending bills, also be applied to any new funds aimed at lowering ObamaCare premiums.

Democrats are pushing back, arguing this would represent an expansion of the Hyde Amendment to a new area of funding, preventing the government from offering money to any insurance plan that offered abortion coverage at all.

With both sides at an impasse, it’s looking less likely that the funding bill will end up including any ObamaCare fixes. 

“Make no mistake: Republicans are saying they will only agree to lower Americans’ health costs if they can strip comprehensive health coverage away from millions of women at the same time,” Henry Connelly, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), said in a statement Tuesday.

“Republicans are not asking to reiterate Hyde, they are trying to radically expand it to control how private insurers use private dollars.”

Another outstanding issue, according to Cole, is whether to include a so-called conscience protection clause, which would protect health-care workers who have religious or moral objections to abortion.  

Cole also said funding for Trump’s border wall was still “in play.” 

Lawmakers have been lobbying leadership to attach a host of other issues to the omnibus, including an online sales tax measure, a narrow background check bill for gun purchases and an overhaul of Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policy. 

But GOP leaders have been tightlipped about what provisions will make the final cut, though some lawmakers have dropped hints about the bill’s contents.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill that a four-month extension of the Federal Aviation Administration is likely to be included. The agency’s current legal authority expires at the end of March. 

Cole also suggested that the omnibus would significantly increase funding for school safety as part of their response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school last month.

And Republicans have largely shot down the idea of attaching a fix for an Obama-era immigration program to the omnibus.

But some conservatives have expressed concern that the funding package will end up leaning too far left, since GOP leaders know that a number of Republicans will be opposing the omnibus anyway.

Republican leaders will attach “anything that leans to the left because at this point I believe they are going to count on more Democrat votes than Republicans,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told The Hill. 

“At this point, I’m going to have to struggle to get to yes. $63 billion over the [Budget Control Act] — man, that’s tough to ask. That’s a frustrating poison pill to swallow.”

Scott Wong and Peter Sullivan contributed. 

Tags Bill Shuster Charles Schumer Donald Trump government funding bill Leonard Lance Mark Walker Nancy Pelosi omnibus Paul Ryan Pete King Rand Paul Shutdown Tom Cole
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