Congressional leaders face several hurdles to getting a budget deal done by the Dec. 11 deadline, including a fight over health funding that is holding up the omnibus spending package.
There’s also a battle brewing over dozens of policy riders aimed at Wall Street and environmental regulations that Republicans insist should be included in the legislation but Democrats warn could lead to a government shutdown.
Some Republicans also want to add language blocking President Obama's refugee resettlement program, which would be a non-starter with Democrats, but GOP leaders are reluctant at this point to pursue that path.
Democratic leaders have highlighted the riders as the biggest threat to a year-end spending deal, though discussion of them was postponed until the Thanksgiving recess because of a dispute over funding.
“All riders will be dealt with when we complete a good part of the money bills. We aren’t quite settled on a lot of things yet,” Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said before the break. “There are still issues related to money.”
The biggest funding holdup relates to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Both sides agree the research institute should get a funding boost, but they are at odds over how to pay for it.
Republicans want to take the money out of other programs, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which face funding cuts of 20 percent or more. Republicans also want to cut the National Labor Relations Board and preschool development programs.
Mikulski and Democrats argue the boost for NIH should come from the additional budget cap space created by a bipartisan deal struck between President Obama and GOP leaders last month.
“We all would like to raise money for NIH, but the question is do we add more money from what we got out of the budget agreement or do we continue to take money from other programs,” Mikulski said. “We believe you shouldn’t shortchange other programs.”
Negotiators also must hash out how much of the extra money provided by the budget deal should go to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has threatened to strike Washington, D.C., next.
Congress has not received a request from the administration for supplemental funding, which could ease pressure from budget caps if it was designated an emergency.
Another landmine is funding for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, which Democrats contend is inadequate.
Democrats have also highlighted an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog for the National Park Service, which celebrates its centennial next year.
On top of the funding clash, dozens of policy riders are on the table, setting up a standoff that some lawmakers warn could lead to a shutdown.
Republicans, for instance, have set their sights on repealing as much of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act as possible.
They are pushing provisions that would bar the government from designating non-bank financial institutions “too big to fail” and blocking the Securities and Exchange Commission from issuing rules requiring firms to disclose corporate political spending.
Senate Republicans want to chip away at Dodd-Frank rules addressing potentially abusive mortgage lending and risk management at major banks.
Another target is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created by the 2010 Wall Street reform law.
Republicans want to make the agency subject to oversight by congressional appropriations committees, which Democrats argue would undermine its independence.
Republicans also want to change its leadership structure from a single director to a five-member commission. Liberal critics of that proposal such as Public Citizen argue the change would make the agency less accountable and more likely to become gridlocked.
Democratic leaders warn these riders could cause a government shutdown by stalling the omnibus despite last month’s budget deal, which boosted the top-line spending numbers.
“There may be a shutdown,” Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden's Supreme Court commission ends not with a bang but a whimper Hispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, told The Huffington Post earlier this month. “It won’t be over the numbers. We won that fight. We won it big. It would be over the riders.”
Republicans counter that riders are included in every annual spending package.
“Riders on appropriations bills are as common as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening,” said a Senate Republican leadership aide, who noted that Democrats are pushing some of their own riders.
Senate aides say riders addressing Wall Street and environmental regulations will provoke the biggest fight next month.
Negotiators have begun discussing them since the Senate and House recessed last week.
On the environmental front, Senate and House Republicans are pushing language blocking the administration from enforcing a proposed clean power rule.
The Senate voted last week on a resolution sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHoyer signals House vote on bill to 'remove' debt limit threat Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE (R-Ky.) to block the EPA from implementing the rule. It passed 52 to 46 on a largely party-line vote.
Senate Democratic leadership aides say McConnell’s outspoken support for it portends problems for the spending package next month.
“The level of acrimony is related to hard a Republicans push to pass things that couldn’t pass in the Senate on their own,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Republicans are trying to undo EPA regulations any way they can. McConnell has made a loud showing of his effort to use the appropriations process to win on provisions that can’t pass on their own.”
Republicans are also pushing language to halt the implementation of the "waters of the U.S." rule, which expands protections for streams and wetlands. The GOP, however, argues the regulation is overly broad and will increase construction costs.
The Senate earlier this month passed a resolution 53 to 44 disapproving the rule.
Both disapproval resolutions are subject to presidential vetos.
Republicans think they’ll have more leverage if language blocking the regulations is part of a year-end package to keep the government open until next fall.