On Wednesday top Republican appropriators, backed by GOP leadership, presented their opening offer to Democrats on how to resolve remaining funding and policy issues in the FY16 omnibus spending bill. Democrats rebuffed the offer saying major changes would need to be made in order to attract their party’s votes, which will be critical since many conservatives tend to vote against major spending agreements.
Earlier in the week, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said negotiators had worked out most funding issues on seven of the 12 annual spending bills, but that some of the most politically contentious nondefense bills, including Financial Services, Interior-Environment and Labor HHS, were still unresolved.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said he still hopes to file the text of an omnibus agreement on Monday, allowing time for House and Senate passage by December 11 when the current CR expires. However, policy disputes on issues such as the treatment of Syrian refugees, environmental rules, financial regulations and campaign finance restrictions, are still threatening to hold up the deal.
On Tuesday, Senator Labor HHS Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) expressed confidence that a fresh version of the subcommittee measure will be completed as part of an omnibus spending package. House Labor HHS Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) separately said he is “reasonably optimistic” about the chances for completing a FY16 Labor HHS bill, but said fights over policy riders are still working to be resolved.
On Thursday the Senate passed, 52-47, an amended budget reconciliation bill that would roll back significant portions of the 2010 health care law and cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood for one year.
Republicans needed only 51 votes to pass the measure because they moved it through a budget reconciliation process requiring only a simple majority instead of the usual 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. The House will take a final vote on the bill next week. The White House has issued a veto threat on the measure.
Before advancing the package, senators adopted a substitute amendment from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that dramatically expanded the scope of the repeal of the health overhaul from the version the House passed in October. The substitute included provisions that would scrap in 2018 the overhaul’s Medicaid expansion, as well as subsidies to help individuals buy coverage through the insurance exchanges.
The Senate also rejected more than a dozen amendments to the package during a nearly seven-hour vote-a-rama, including a proposal that would have stripped out the language cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood and others on gun control following the mass shooting in California on Wednesday.
The House on Wednesday approved the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), entitled the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” replacing the “No Child Left Behind” law. House members voted 359-64 to approve the conference report on a Senate bill (S. 1177) that became the basis of negotiations between the House and Senate. All of the opposing votes were by Republicans.
S. 1177 modifies programs and policies to give states, school districts, schools, teachers and parents greater control over all aspects of elementary and secondary education. It maintains some federal oversight of state programs through the Education Department’s ability to approve state plans for the use of federal funds, but it places strong restrictions on department actions and control.
The conference agreement would authorize education programs through fiscal year 2020. Total authorizations equal $24.5 billion for FY17, which is $1.2 billion more than the 2015 appropriation, and would increase to $26.1 billion in 2020. Every Child Succeeds authorizes about $1.3 billion per year for the Impact Aid program, which provides direct funding to school districts affected by the presence of the federal government.
The Senate is expected to vote on the conference report next week and is likely to clear it for the president’s signature. The White House, which threatened to veto the earlier House version and wanted to see changes to the Senate version, signaled its support for the final package Wednesday.
The House on Thursday voted 249-174 to pass a wide-ranging energy policy bill (H.R. 8) that is inconsistent with the White House’s climate agenda and would likely be vetoed if it goes to president’s desk.
First introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), the measure would enable the export of oil and liquid natural gas, streamline natural gas pipeline permitting, direct federal agencies to better coordinate on power grid reliability issues and direct those agencies to incorporate smart grid and energy efficient technologies into the overall electric infrastructure.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced a similar energy overhaul legislation package (S. 2012) earlier this year, although with more bipartisan provisions and support. Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said earlier this week that the bill is unlikely to see floor action this month.
Even though the bill is unlikely to become law and Congress is rushing to complete work on a challenging budget agreement, House leaders chose to conduct the vote at the same time as the United Nations climate conference in Paris, where President Obama has tried to position the United States as a global leader in efforts to forestall climate change induced by carbon emissions.
The White House made a statement that the bill would “undermine already successful initiatives designed to modernize the Nation’s energy infrastructure and increase our energy efficiency.”
The House on Thursday voted 359-65 to pass a five-year, roughly $305 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill (H.R. 22). The Senate voted later on Thursday, passing the bill 83-16 and sending it to the President’s desk.
Final passage came just one day before current authorization (PL 114-87) expired.
Unlike prior reauthorizations, the legislation doesn’t just reauthorize highway and transit programs, but also includes significant rail provisions. Those include not only the reauthorization of Amtrak but also provisions intended to improve the safety of transporting crude oil on railroads.
The package also includes the text of 15 banking-related bills, on being the revival of the Ex-Im Bank, which provides about $20 billion annually in loans and other export financing. The reauthorization comes with several changes for the bank, including a reduction in the value of individual loans it can issue from $140 billion to $135 billion, increased small business lending requirements, a mandate to hire a chief risk officer and an annual audit by the Government Accountability Office on its fraud control measures.
As for highway and transit policy, the bill would boost funding for bus transit, convert the Surface Transportation Program into a block grant program to provide additional flexibility to state and local governments, and create new freight policy and grant programs.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee estimates the measure would provide $305 billion for transportation over five years. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, revenue and interest coming into the Highway Trust Fund from motor fuels taxes over the life of the bill would only amount to $208 billion.
In order to cover the cost of surface transportation programs, Congress will draw $70 billion from the General Fund for the measure and deposit it in the Highway Trust Fund, the source of reimbursement for states for highway and transit projects. The bill would also transfer $300 million over three years to the Highway Trust Fund from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that President Barack Obama would sign the bill.
Congress is heading home for the weekend, but the clock is still ticking down to the deadline for an omnibus spending agreement. Lawmakers are looking ahead to a busy week, when the House is expected to vote on a bill to tighten the visa waiver program and, possibly, a $1.1 trillion catchall omnibus spending measure before spending authority (PL 114-53) expires on December 11.
With negotiations ongoing, signs are growing that congressional leaders may look to advance another short-term continuing resolution next week in order to give negotiators more time to strike a deal on an omnibus spending bill. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) indicated Monday that he is open to moving a week-long CR should appropriators fail to finalize an omnibus by the 11th. Hours later the White House indicated it would not block such a short-term CR while lawmakers finalize the appropriations deal, however, they also said the President would not sign a long-term CR.