GOP leaders see finish line on omnibus deal

Greg Nash

House GOP leaders said they’re putting the finishing touches on an enormous 2018 spending bill, predicting the few remaining snags will be ironed out as early as Monday night.  

Finalizing a bipartisan omnibus agreement would set the stage for both chambers to vote on the $1.2 trillion package before Friday, when government funding is scheduled to expire. 

“We’re in good shape. … We’re really at the very highest levels now [and] I think most of these issues are settled,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said Monday evening as he left a GOP conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol.

“They’re scrambling, working really hard to try to get them done so they can file tonight, or tomorrow at the latest.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the Republicans would adhere to their internal 72-hour rule — stipulating that legislation must be introduced three days ahead of a floor vote — regardless of when the bill officially emerges.

“If it’s able to be filed by before midnight tonight, we’ll vote on it Wednesday. If not, we’ll vote on it Thursday,” McCarthy said.

{mosads}The last-minute negotiations come after weeks of bipartisan talks over the mammoth package to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. The negotiations had been hindered by scores of contentious partisan “riders,” any one of which had threatened to derail the entire package.

While the package has not been finalized — and some provisions remain in flux — the negotiators appear to have winnowed the possible “poison pills” down to just a handful.

Catering to their own conference, GOP leaders rejected a Democratic entreaty to fund certain ObamaCare subsidies granted to insurance companies serving low-income patients. Conservative Republicans had insisted that any such provision be accompanied by so-called “Hyde amendment” language, which prevents federal funding of abortion services — a demand GOP leaders met to prevent Republican defections. 

At Monday’s GOP conference meeting, some Republicans erupted into cheers and applause when leaders announced that they would hold the line and insist Hyde language be attached to any new ObamaCare payments, according to a person in the room. 

Republican leaders also appear to have yanked a contentious online sales tax provision. Championed by GOP Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.), the amendment would allow states to collect sales tax from out-of-state online retailers — a change some conservatives have warned will hurt small online businesses.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said a short extension for funding of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is likely a part of the final package. Without congressional action, FAA funds would expire at the end of March. 

Several policy riders remain in play, according to numerous lawmakers and aides. Among that short list is whether to include funding for the Gateway project, a commuter rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey beneath the Hudson River. The funding is favored by regional lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), but President Trump has threatened to veto the omnibus if it includes the provision.

On Monday evening, the Republicans sent a Gateway offer to Democrats, and a GOP source said they expect a solution is forthcoming.

The Republican push for more immigration enforcement funding — including some money for Trump’s promised border wall — is another outstanding issue still in need of working out. 

“I think they’re still talking about all that — how to do it, how to pay for it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who’s expected to take the Appropriations Committee gavel from the retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Disaster relief, including wildfire funding, is also an open item, according to aides.

Among the more surprising riders still in play is a bipartisan bill designed to bolster the background check system before gun sales. The House had passed the Fix National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) bill earlier in the year, but it’s gone nowhere in the Senate after House Republicans paired it with partisan legislation expanding the right of gun owners to carry concealed weapons nationwide — a non-starter with most Democrats. 

“Fix NICS is on the table. However, there is a little bit of resistance because that had been coupled with concealed-carry reciprocity before and now it’s not,” Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) said as he left Monday’s meeting. 

“I don’t think that matters because there will be Democrats who vote for this. I don’t think [this issue] is big enough to take down the whole bill.”

House GOP leaders had hoped to introduce the omnibus bill on Monday, setting the stage for a vote on Wednesday. A delay in the release would likely push the vote further into the week, leaving the Senate with less time to move the package through the upper chamber.  

The week’s calendar is also being complicated by the threat of severe weather, which is expected to hit the Washington region Tuesday and Wednesday, and the funeral of the late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

Slaughter, the former ranking member of the Rules Committee, died last week at the age of 88. Her funeral is scheduled for Friday in Rochester, N.Y., and numerous lawmakers from both parties are expected to attend.

Cole said he’s confident Congress will come together before Friday to keep the government running, despite the time crunch — or perhaps because of it.

“I think we’ll get there,” he said. “What happens is what always happens around here. The closer you get to a deadline, the more reasonable people become.”

—Peter Sullivan, Naomi Jagoda and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

Tags Bill Shuster Chuck Schumer Daniel Webster Donald Trump Government shutdown government spending bill Kevin McCarthy Kristi Noem Louise Slaughter omnibus Richard Shelby Thad Cochran Tom Cole

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