GOP, Dems battle over riders as deadline nears

Republicans and Democrats are locking horns over policy additions to an enormous federal spending package as the clock ticks ever closer to a government shutdown.

Democratic leaders on Wednesday swiftly rejected a Republican proposal to fund government agencies through next September, arguing that more than 30 policy “riders” — including measures to undo environmental regulations and toughen screenings for Syrian refugees — were simply unacceptable.

{mosads}“Their offer wasn’t real. We couldn’t accept it,” Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said flatly. “They know we couldn’t accept it.”

The Democrats wasted little time proposing a counter-offer, which they were expected to  deliver to Republicans Wednesday evening.

The back-and-forth had all the makings of an entrenched spending fight, with both parties launching accusations that the other side was dealing disingenuously at risk of shuttering the government.

But beneath the barb-trading there was also a hint of well-choreographed political theater. Leaders in both parties face political pressures to fight tooth and nail for their policy priorities, but they’re also racing to prevent a shutdown ahead of the Dec. 11 deadline.

By floating initial offers jammed with wish-list provisions, each side can appease its ideological base, before negotiators begin peeling off amendments deemed “poison pills” by the other side.

Under former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), that process usually played out on the House floor, with show votes on conservative proposals that were quickly sunk by Democrats in the Senate. 

In this debate, under Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ping-pong process is taking place off the floor, as leaders and appropriators trade proposals and counter-proposals behind closed doors.

With Boehner still at the helm, Congress and the White House successfully negotiated a budget deal that established a top-line number governing the spending process. But the agreement did not specify how the money would be allocated. It’s those details that lawmakers are now trying to iron out.

The process is particularly delicate for Ryan, who’s walking a fine line between cobbling together a package that can win President Obama’s support and satisfying conservatives who thought Boehner caved too quickly to Obama’s 

The Republicans’ initial offer, delivered Tuesday evening, was panned by Democrats, who accused the GOP of abandoning talks in an effort to ram a partisan bill through the House. 

“When you’re working on a bill that, you know, we hope can pass the House and the Senate, you don’t send over an offer … that’s going nowhere,” Lowey said. 

Among the riders rejected by the Democrats are provisions to scale back Wall Street reforms and to strengthen the screening process for refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq. 

GOP leaders had pushed their refugee bill, sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Micheal McCaul (R-Texas), through the lower chamber in response to last month’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. 

The bill won the support of 47 House Democrats. But Democratic leaders rejected it as an attempt to end the refugee program altogether, and Obama has vowed to veto the language if it hits his desk.

Trying to avoid a shutdown, which damaged the Republican Party in 2013, GOP leaders are eyeing another anti-terror amendment that could serve as a substitute to the McCaul provision. The alternative proposal is designed to strengthen the current Visa Waiver Program, making it tougher for some foreigners to visit the United States in the name of national security. 

Some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are threatening to vote against the omnibus if it doesn’t include the refugee language, though it’s possible they’d vote against the bill anyway because the bipartisan budget deal struck this fall raised spending levels above the sequester.

“Obama got his $50 billion. Now it’s our turn,” one Freedom Caucus leader told The Hill.

The Republicans’ initial offer did not include any effort to defund Planned Parenthood — an absence that may have reflected the influence of last Friday’s deadly shooting at one of the group’s facilities in Colorado.

Democrats said they won’t be publicly releasing any details of their response. 

“They will receive our counter-offer and then we’ll continue negotiations,” Lowey said.

Tags Boehner John Boehner Paul Ryan
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