Senate negotiators near deal to fund government

Senate negotiators near deal to fund government
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Senate negotiators are nearing a deal to fund the government that would allow lawmakers to get out of town and back on the campaign trail by the end of the week.

The Senate delayed a procedural vote set for Monday evening  on the measure, which would fund federal department and agencies through Dec. 9, to Tuesday afternoon. The vote is now set for 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The key issue in the talks is resolving a fight that would prevent $1.1 billion in new money to fight the spread of the Zika virus from being used by Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico.

Republicans are close to a deal that would nix that language and allow the clinics in Puerto Rico, where Zika is rampant, to use the money.

Negotiators are squabbling over language blocking the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring public companies to report their political activities. Republicans included a rider in the 2015 year-end spending package that stopped the SEC from forcing companies to reveal their political spending. Democrats want the provision to expire while Republicans want to extend it. 
 
Republicans also want riders to block the Department of Transportation from finalizing truck-safety regulations and stop the Obama administration from relinquishing the Department of Commerce’s oversight of the Internet to an international body.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke says he raised record .2M since launching campaign for Texas governor Golden State Warriors owner says 'nobody cares' about Uyghurs All hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor MORE (R-Texas), who came in second in the Republican presidential primary, has led the battle to include language blocking what he calls the “Internet handover.”

"It is my hope that Congress is going to act to maintain the internet and keep the internet free," Cruz, swarmed by reporters, said on Monday night. But he stopped short of saying he would hold up a vote on the spending measure over the issue.
 
A senior Senate aide said the Planned Parenthood funding is “pretty much settled” but cautioned that, as with all emerging deals, no piece is final until negotiators agree on everything. It’s expected the final bill will shift federal funds in a way so that they don’t go directly to the family-planning services group.

One of the last remaining obstacles, according to Democratic sources, is the Republicans’ desire to find ways to offset the cost of the $1.1 billion.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynAll hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Monday evening that he hoped the talks would finish by Tuesday but questioned whether Democrats may want to keep vulnerable GOP incumbents in town.

“It looks like we may be here a little longer than we thought,” he said. “I’m an optimist, so tomorrow would be great, but I’m not sure everybody has the same incentives to finish up early.”

The backdrop for the negotiations is the fall campaign and the pitched battle for the Senate.

Democrats need to gain four seats and hold the White House to win back control of the Senate.

In recent weeks, Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE has bumped up in polls, and Republicans have become much more optimistic about keeping the upper chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Sununu says he skipped Senate bid to avoid being 'roadblock' to Biden for two years 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE (R-Ky.) wants to finalize the funding deal and get his colleagues back to their home states. He told colleagues on the Senate floor Monday that he wants to move the stopgap spending measure soon.

“Senate Republicans stand ready to move forward with this important measure now. I would encourage our colleagues across the aisle to work with us to complete the negotiations so we can advance this important measure,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason Reid'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act Democrats would rip up election law under the guise of a COVID emergency After the loss of three giants of conservation, Biden must pick up the mantle MORE (Nev.) has leverage because nine Republican senators are in danger this election cycle, although a few of them, particularly Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support JD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid MORE of Ohio, have seen their poll numbers improve recently. 

No Democratic incumbent is in serious danger.

Overall, Republicans have to defend 24 seats, while Democrats must protect only 10.

The continuing resolution is the last major piece of business that needs to be finished before it can recess.

Democrats have pushed for a rider that would change the quorum rule at the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) so that it would be able to approve transactions exceeding $10 million even though only two seats on its five-person board are filled.

But they acknowledged Monday the provision is unlikely to be included in the continuing resolution even though it has support from some Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (S.C.).

GOP sources say that adding the Ex-Im rider would make it much tougher to pass the legislation in the House, where conservatives will object to the concession on Planned Parenthood access to Zika funding.

“There are still a lot of outstanding riders being discussed and negotiated. Republicans seem more willing to allow Zika funding in a way that allows Planned Parenthood to access the money,” said a senior aide familiar with the negotiations.

Planned Parenthood’s use of the funds to fight Zika, which can cause severe birth defects, has been the biggest sticking point in the talks, but now the central concern is the budgetary impact of the new funding.

Senate leaders are discussing revenue raisers and spending cuts to offset the cost of the emergency funding. Democrats argue they’re unnecessary, but Republicans want to reduce the budgetary impact.

“There has been some progress made in that area,” Cornyn said of the pending offsets. “I certainly think we should offset all of it.”

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Energy & Environment — Earth records its hottest years ever Global temperatures in past seven years hottest ever observed, new data show NASA welcomes chief scientist, senior climate adviser in new dual role MORE (D-Fla.) said Monday that Democrats have agreed to “minor” offsets to pay for the funding package in exchange for cutting out language to block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood and defend the Confederate flag in the bill. 

Nelson said those provisions "have basically been taken off.”
 
Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy (R) is pushing for the addition of emergency funding to pay for extensive flood damage suffered by his home state last month.

Democrats say if emergency money is designated for Louisiana, they want money included to rebuild the water infrastructure in Flint, Mich., where lead-tainted drinking water made national headlines earlier this year. 

McConnell initially hoped to begin the floor debate on the stopgap last week but postponed action when a deal failed to emerge last week. The Senate had scheduled a vote to begin debate on the measure Monday but it was delayed once again. 

Sarah Ferris contributed.