Leaders inch toward funding deal

Congressional leaders appear to be inching toward a government funding deal after days of difficult negotiations over policy amendments in the legislation.

Citing “progress” on a long-term deal, House Republican leaders unveiled a short-term funding bill that will last through next Wednesday, buying time for lawmakers to finish the talks.

{mosads}“While progress is being made on negotiations for a full-year omnibus appropriations bill, it is clear that more time is needed to complete the package,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement.

The text of the omnibus will need to be introduced by Monday to accommodate Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) pledge to wait three days before voting on legislation.

But Rogers cautioned that significant obstacles remain, with Republicans and Democrats still trading offers behind closed doors.

“We’ve got a lot of items to discuss and resolve. Dozens, in fact,” Rogers said. “We’re making some progress, but it’s been slow.” 

Still, one GOP source familiar with the talks said top Republican and Democratic negotiators had reached a tentative agreement but that portions of the legislation were still being written.

A second source, a GOP lawmaker, said he also believed there was a deal on the omnibus but that negotiators were trying to tie up loose ends in separate talks to renew a series of tax breaks. 

“I think there’s a deal in principle, but we’re still trying to work out tax extenders,” the GOP lawmaker told The Hill.

Senate sources told The Hill that lawmakers have nearly reached a deal on the massive end-of-year tax package, which could clear the way for the omnibus.

“Nothing moves now until everything moves. It may move separately, but everything is going to be agreed to,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Finance Committee.

The impasse over a year-end spending bill has hinged on policy attachments that have yet to be publicly revealed.

The debate has evolved into a war of wills between Ryan — who faces enormous pressure from conservatives to fight tooth and nail for as many GOP riders as he can manage — and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a notoriously tough negotiator.

Pelosi and House Democrats quickly rejected the Republicans’ initial omnibus offer last week, citing “more than 30” riders they considered to be deal killers. 

They named one — a GOP bill to halt the Obama administration’s Syrian refugee program — while citing numerous “poison pill” provisions targeting the environment, workers’ rights and Wall Street reforms. But the details of those attachments remain nebulous, as GOP appropriators have pushed a long list of policies this year that would fit those categories.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who authored the Syrian refugee bill, said he’s been told by negotiators that his legislation is part of the current spending package.

“It’s in right now. Whether it survives in negotiations” is unclear, McCaul told The Hill Wednesday night. “I think Hal’s intention is to have it in there, but it’s ultimately leadership’s call.”

Democrats have largely demurred when asked to identify what constitutes a poison pill.

“It’s pretty clear to Republicans what would be amendments that we would not, or could not, take,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Tuesday.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have been even more secretive about their own counteroffer.

Delivered last Wednesday, it was rejected by the Republicans, suggesting the Democrats stripped out all the controversial riders. But it’s unclear if the Democrats attached their own wish list of policy provisions in the process, as neither side has provided details of the package nor the Republicans’ legislative response.

The reticence is unusual for big spending fights on Capitol Hill, where leaks to the media are often a normal part of the negotiating process, but it could have a simple explanation: Both sides will want to claim victory when the smoke clears, and identifying the riders being fought over would make it easier to identify winners and losers.

Bolstering Ryan’s hand, Republicans have both the largest House majority since the 1940s and control of the Senate.  

Pelosi, meanwhile, is helped not only by Obama’s veto pen and the Senate filibuster, but also by a number of conservative House Republicans who have vowed to oppose the omnibus bill over spending levels they deem too high. That opposition has stolen the conservatives’ leverage in the rider fight and transferred power to the Democrats. 

Smoothing the process, GOP leaders declined to include provisions to defund Planned Parenthood in the omnibus, as many Republicans had advocated, or provisions to repeal ObamaCare, which led to a 16-day government shutdown in 2013.

One concession the Democrats appear ready to give involves the GOP’s effort to end the country’s export ban on crude oil. 

Hoyer said Tuesday that, while Democrats don’t think that provision should be a part of the omnibus, they also don’t consider it a poison pill that could sink the whole package.

“It’s still on the table, and it’s still being discussed,” Hoyer said. 

“That’s not where we want to go,” he emphasized. “But on the other hand, if there were substantial agreements by the Republicans on some things that we thought were very important, that might be something — I don’t think that falls into the category of some of these other things.” 

Cristina Marcos and Alexander Bolton contributed. This story was updated at 8:23 p.m.

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