Snags emerge on budget bill

Snags emerge on budget bill
© Greg Nash

Senate leaders are struggling to reach agreement on a short-term funding measure to keep the federal government from shutting down.

Republican leaders had hoped to pass a stopgap bill running through Dec. 9 as soon as this week so that vulnerable colleagues could return home to campaign.

Instead, the last significant bill that will pass Congress before Election Day has become a magnet for trouble.

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Partisan clashes have erupted on everything from abortion and the Zika virus to oversight of the internet just two days after congressional leaders left a White House meeting meant to plot an orderly wrap-up of legislative business.

Congress needs to act before Sept. 30 to keep the government funded.

The abortion rights fight that has held up funding to combat the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects, is a big problem for congressional leaders.

Republicans are still insisting that any taxpayer money allocated for Zika not be allowed to go to abortion providers. At issue is $80 million slated for U.S. territories with active Zika transmission. Democrats want to make sure that Planned Parenthood, a healthcare provider that performs abortions, can access that money at clinics it operates in Puerto Rico.

Also in play is a Republican-sponsored proposal to loosen regulatory restrictions on the use of pesticides against mosquitoes, the main carriers of the virus.

Another rider, backed by Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzRosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Clyburn: Cowed GOP ascribes 'mystical powers' to Trump GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters MORE (R-Texas) and other conservatives, would block the administration from relinquishing the Department of Commerce’s oversight of the internet.

Democrats and some Republicans are pushing for a policy rider that would change the quorum rules at the Export-Import Bank to allow it to finance transactions bigger than $10 million.

One Republican senator said the GOP leadership is desperate to pass the stopgap bill as soon as possible to get vulnerable incumbents out of Washington and back on the trail.

He predicted that GOP leaders would start dropping riders and agree to a relatively clean funding bill to get their members home.

“The goal is to get out of here, and entertaining any of these issues really delays the process,” said the lawmaker, referring to the controversial riders. “The leadership is trying to keep this as clean as possible.”

Senate Democrats don’t appear to be in as big of a rush, however.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidCortez Masto says she's not interested in being Biden VP Nevada congressman admits to affair after relationship divulged on podcast Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil MORE (Nev.) on Wednesday dismissed the likelihood of a quick deal, saying “a lot of work” needs to happen on the spending measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes bill to give flexibility for small business coronavirus aid program On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) has already set up a vote to begin debate on the stopgap. He’d like to get a bill through the Senate quickly.

Delays caused by internal GOP disputes and disagreements with Democrats are complicating that strategy, however, and now House conservatives worried about being jammed by the Senate are taking advantage of the impasse by calling for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTwitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-Wis.) to pass a spending measure through the House first.

“The Senate has gotten itself balled up on their attempts to do a CR [continuing resolution], so I think it’s important that House go ahead and move first,” said Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresLawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers Texas kicks off critical battle for House control Democrats push to end confidentiality for oil companies that don't add ethanol MORE (R-Texas), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of 178 House Republicans.

“If there is a short-term CR, we’re going to push that we move first and we’d have three principal policy riders on it,” he said.

One rider would halt the Syrian refugee resettlement program until the government can assure no terrorists or radicals will be admitted to the U.S.; the second would block money from going to Planned Parenthood clinics; and the third would halt President Obama’s internet transition plan, which is scheduled to go into effect at month’s end.  

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief says he opposes invoking Insurrection Act for protests | White House dodges on Trump's confidence in Esper | 'Angry and appalled' Mattis scorches Trump Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump Blumenthal to introduce legislation to limit Trump's power under Insurrection Act MORE (S.D.) told reporters that the negotiators are making progress but a deal remains elusive.

“It’s coming together, but it’s not there yet,” he said. “I think this bleeds into next week.”

He said Cruz’s proposal is still on the table to add language to the bill that would stop the administration from ceding oversight of the internet to an international body.

“There’s some give and take and pass-backs on that issue and language that people are looking at and considering,” he said. “There’s no resolution of it yet, but that’s not the only issue that we don’t have resolution on.”

Republicans are also pushing for a rider that would lift certain restrictions on the use of pesticides against mosquitoes.

“Most of the agents that are being used have been used before and they are regulated. This is allowing more flexibility in their usage for applications that haven’t been tried before,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senator blocks bill giving flexibility to small-business loans but says deal near GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters Murkowski: Treatment of White House protesters 'not the America I know' MORE (R), whose home state of Florida has been hit hard by Zika. “They’ve been certified as not posing the threat. I’m in favor of new strategies to deal with the spread of mosquitoes.”

Democrats for their part are pushing language to free up the Export-Import Bank to conduct transactions larger than $10 million. Under the agency’s rules, it cannot make such transactions because it lacks a quorum on its five-person board, which has three vacancies.

Democrats have support from Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on police brutality next week McCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony MORE (S.C.), whose constituents depend on exports.

“It’s very important to me. We’re losing jobs for no good reason,” he said.

But that rider is facing powerful opposition from Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and House conservatives.

“I’m fundamentally opposed to the Ex-Im Bank. The majority of the Republicans voted not to even authorize it in the Senate,” he said. “It’s big corporate welfare. If you’re a conservative, you’ll be against that.”

Scott Wong and Sarah Ferris contributed.