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.


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 CruzTomi Lahren says CPAC attendees clearly want Trump to run in 2024 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden returns to Obama-era greenhouse gas calculation | House passes major public lands package | Biden administration won't defend Trump-era relaxation of bird protections Cruz hits back at Boehner for telling him to 'go f--- yourself' 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 CornynBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip 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 TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged 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 McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now 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 ReidTrumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate 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 PortmanGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers 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 GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report 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 NelsonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Florida Democrats mired in division, debt ahead of 2022 Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives 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.