Congress racing to finish $1.6T spending and tax cut package

Congress racing to finish $1.6T spending and tax cut package
© Greg Nash

Congressional leaders are racing to finish a $1.6 trillion spending and tax-cut package, a final legislative achievement before both parties dig in for the trench warfare of the 2016 elections.

Negotiators were finalizing the last details of the deal late Tuesday, setting up a House vote as soon as Thursday.  

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The main question left is how many votes the two packages can win in the House, where conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have raised various objections.

House conservatives are disappointed the $1.1 trillion spending bill does not include language halting a program to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States or a provision defunding Planned Parenthood.

Several members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus vowed Tuesday to oppose the omnibus because it fails to address Syrian refugees.

Liberals are upset at the size of the tax package, which would cost more than $500 billion over 10 years, adding to the deficit and potentially increasing the pressure to cut spending in the future.

Leaders were expected to post the bills Tuesday evening, the same night Republican presidential candidates gathered in Las Vegas for their fifth primary debate, minimizing the likelihood of a public backlash, a congressional leadership aide noted. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance Ex-White House spokesman Raj Shah joins Fox Corporation as senior vice president Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report MORE (R-Wis.) scheduled a special meeting of his conference for 

9 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the details.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch MORE (R-Ky.) announced he would meet with his Republican colleagues Wednesday morning to go over the spending and tax measures. 

Ryan will have to defend the spending bill for lacking many of the policy riders that Republicans had hoped to include. A senior Democratic aide said Tuesday that many of the riders undermining the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and loosening campaign finance restrictions had been stripped.

Another concern for conservatives is language imposing a two-year moratorium on a core component of ­ObamaCare: the “Cadillac tax” on expensive health plans.

Mike Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action for America, on Monday penned an op-ed urging Republicans to oppose freezing the Cadillac tax because doing so might only make ObamaCare more popular by shielding voters from its effects, undercutting efforts to repeal it.

Heightening the challenge for Ryan, former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner won't say whether he'd back Biden over Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise MORE (R-Ohio) was ousted by conservatives who felt the House leader was ignoring his own rank-and-file members amid high-stakes budget fights with President Obama. Ryan, tapped as Boehner’s replacement, is under pressure to operate differently or face similar heat from within his own conference.

Ryan wants to avoid passing the omnibus with a large majority of Democrats and less than half of the Republicans in his own conference.

GOP leaders hope that by adding language lifting the decades-old ban on oil exports, they can attract more Republican votes.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) warned his colleagues last month that it would be critical for a majority of the conference to vote for the omnibus.

“The story of a bill that passed with 150 Republican votes is much more positive and assertive than the story of a bill that passes with 79 Republican votes,” he wrote in a letter to his whip team.

The tax package, meanwhile, has ­become a target of criticism from Democrats.

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill The House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border MORE (Md.), the Democratic whip, said the proposal is too big, too expensive and one “we ought to strongly oppose.”

“It would undermine the deficit, creating a larger debt. It would undermine tax reform, taking off the table [a number] of the things that would be included in a tax reform bill. ... And lastly it would substantially undermine our investments in growing our economy and creating jobs,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.

“For all of those reasons it is bad policy and ought to be rejected,” he added. “And I hope it will be rejected by the House and by the Senate.”

His remarks echoed those of House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress MORE (D-Calif.), who called the tax package “a massive, permanent giveaway ... which is really destructive of our future.”

She warned last week that House Democrats are lining up against the measure.

“I don’t see very much support on the Democratic side,” she said.

It’s unclear, however, if Democratic opposition would be enough to sink the package in either chamber. Most Republicans support the measure, and there are enough sweeteners in it to attract Democrats.

Those include permanent expansions of the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and a credit for college tuition. The bill would also freeze for two years the Cadillac tax on group insurance plans, a key issue for labor unions.

Leaders expect to vote on the omnibus and the tax package separately in the House; they could combine them into one mega-bill before a Senate vote.

McConnell declined Tuesday to comment on his floor strategy before the House acts.

Senate leaders expect both deals to pass with strong majorities in the upper chamber, though Democrats on Tuesday were demanding funding to study the impact of global warming on the oceans in exchange for lifting the oil export ban.

“We ... allow some grants to be issued. But we need to do a lot more than that. And that’s what we’re working on,” Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller MORE (D-Nev.) told reporters. “We have, of course, more water than there is land in the world, and we have ignored the necessity of doing something to protect our oceans.”

Democrats also expected to win extensions of renewable energy tax breaks as well as funding for a global program to help less wealthy nations limit carbon emissions and adapt to the consequences of climate change. A reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund is also in the mix.

Without those concessions, a group of pro-environment Democrats may vote against the tax package.

The government would shut down on Thursday without a new funding bill, meaning Congress would have to pass another stopgap measure to give the chambers time to vote.

Senate leaders hope to vote on the package the same day the House passes it, but that depends on getting cooperation from all 100 members of the chamber.

“Anybody who wants to stay here any more of their Christmas holiday I guess could do that but at some point we’re going to have to vote, and I would think people would be incentivized to try to take care of our business this week,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas). 

Jordain Carney contributed. This story was updated at 9:14 p.m.