House Set To Pass Spending Bill
January 15, 2014
Erik Wasson and Russell Berman
The House is poised Wednesday to approve a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government, despite the opposition of conservative groups.
Both parties scored policy wins in the bill, creating the potential for a resounding show of support on the House floor.
The deadline for a government shutdown looms at midnight Saturday, but the political dynamic has shifted dramatically since October’s break in funding.
House lawmakers on Tuesday approved a three-day continuing resolution to keep the government open — and did so by voice vote, a procedure usually reserved for only the most uncontroversial legislation.
The vote paved the way for consideration of the omnibus, which will come up under a closed rule that does not allow amendments.
Most members leaving caucus meetings on Tuesday appeared receptive to voting for the 1,582-page legislation, which would fund the government through September.
“It’s a bipartisan compromise that will pass with bipartisan support,” a GOP leadership aide said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said there’s broad support for the omnibus in the Republican Conference.
“The bill covers so many things that are important to our members,” he said. “We held the line on ObamaCare, in fact it’s been reduced by removing a $1 billion slush fund. It’s funded at sequestrated levels.”
He said the ObamaCare issue, which caused a 16-day government shutdown in October, has been “neutralized” but would not predict what the final vote count would be ahead of an afternoon whip check.
“The shutdown educated particularly our younger members, who were not here during the earlier shutdown as I was, about how futile that kind of practice is,” Rogers said. “There is a real hard determination now that we will reacquire and use the power of the purse … which is regular order for appropriations bills.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who negotiated the budget deal and has major pull with conservatives, told The Hill he would support the bill.
“They did a good job; they kept it clean, and they hit their numbers,” Ryan said.
Some conservatives are certain to vote against the bill following key vote alerts from Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, and strong statements against the bill from FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots and Americans for Prosperity.
The Club statement said it opposes the bill because “it funds ObamaCare, plusses up other wasteful programs, and contains dozens of policy riders that can only be described as earmarks.”
“I’m going to be a no. It still projects a $600 billion deficit,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). “We retained some conservative riders, but we didn’t get all of them.”
But the Tea Party defections on the Republican side will be more than offset by the support of House Democrats.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he is on board.
“As you know, I’m not a big fan of this appropriations bill … [but] I think it’s better than the alternative,” he said. “Therefore, I’m going to support it.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), whose imprimatur carries weight in the Democratic caucus, said the measure she negotiated is a win for liberals.
“We are really pouring millions of dollars into Head Start. … I am very pleased with our continuing investments in the National Institutes of Health; we know how important investing in research is to the health of our constituents,” she said.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said some liberal Democrats might be inclined to oppose the measure based on spending levels being much lower than they’d prefer. But he and most Democrats will back the bill, Welch predicted, as “the best we can get” as the minority party.
“Nita Lowey is a certified progressive, and people have faith in her,” Welch said Tuesday.
Republican leaders worked all day Tuesday to address concerns by members and bring in a strong vote. Members of the Utah delegation were pressing for a farm bill provision to ensure federal payments to local rural governments continue.
Other members were somewhat frustrated by the short time frame they were given to consider the bill.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) defended the rush to passage.
“I would like to have more time,” he said at a press conference following a House GOP conference meeting. “But we’re in a situation, where the government is in fact going to run out of money.”
The bill, which has $1.012 trillion in base funding and $92 billion for the war on terror, was posted online and emailed to members on Monday evening, meaning GOP leaders will adhere to the letter of their rule to allow legislation to be publicly available on parts of three calendar days before a vote.
But the reality is most if not all lawmakers will vote on legislation affecting the entire federal government without fully reading it, undermining a Republican campaign pledge from 2010 in which the party denounced Democrats for pushing through large bills without adequate review.
“We’re going to move a short-term [continuing resolution], but we want to get this government funding in place as soon as possible,” Boehner said. “And I think under the circumstances, what we’re doing is appropriate.”
Republican lawmakers lamented the quick turnaround, but few predicted the process would cost many votes.
“Of course there’s a problem with that. But it’s been well-discussed; it’s bipartisan,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the Rules Committee, which was set to approve a floor procedure Tuesday prohibiting amendments to the bill.
Sessions said members had had the opportunity throughout the omnibus negotiations to learn about the bill.
“I wish we had seven or eight weeks to do it. It didn’t work that way,” he said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said there were “not a lot of mysteries” in the bill and noted much of the legislation was based on the 10 appropriations bills that had been drafted and passed out of committee in the House last year. More than anything, he said, the bipartisan omnibus was better than the alternative — another long-term continuing resolution that gave lawmakers even less say in spending decisions.
“I wish this place functioned better, but this is the best it has functioned in about three years,” Cole said. “Pretty good agreement, I think.”
Once the bill passes the House, it heads to the Senate for a likely Friday vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was still reviewing the bill on Tuesday and could vote against it, but he predicted enough Republicans would support it to give it the 60 votes needed for passage.
“My assumption is it will be passed,” he said. “You’d have to talk to members of the Appropriations Committee, but my understanding is a number of them intend to vote for the bill.”