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Chambers Juggle Minibuses

A first minibus appropriations bill appears ripe for approval this week, even as the chances of a second measure are up in the air.

House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that “a substantial number of Democrats” would support the $128 billion measure, which will be voted on Thursday. And while some conservatives oppose a housing provision in the bill, Republicans so far don’t think it will derail the bill’s final passage. The measure includes a continuing resolution to fund the government through the week of Dec. 12.

“I think it’s solid. I think we’re going to be OK. You don’t get everything you want in a split Congress,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, an appropriator.

Still, the Georgia Republican acknowledged that the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America did not do the conference any favors Tuesday by announcing they would “key vote” the minibus bill. The two conservative groups oppose the appropriations measure because of its spending levels and language that would increase the size of mortgages backed up by the Federal Housing Administration.

“I don’t know if that means we lose 30 Members or 55 or 60,” Kingston said. “But those of us who have been really close to the process the last two weeks know we’ve struggled to get to where we are, and that’s why Republicans and Democrats alike signed the conference report.”

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers also said the key votes wouldn’t kill the bill’s chances on the floor, although he would not say whether it would pass with a majority of Republican votes.

“I think it’s going to pick up bipartisan support. Hopefully, all Republicans will vote for it; I’m sure there will be some that will not,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday. “But I think it will pass. It has to.”

Last-minute fights over CR measures have popped up several times this year, although as Members look to next week’s Thanksgiving recess, they are less focused on the minibus and are training more of their attention on the negotiations of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. House Members were also on recess last week, and the Republican whip effort on the minibus just started Tuesday afternoon.

The first minibus of the year includes the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill; the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill; and the Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration appropriations bill, along with the CR.

The measure has several goodies for conservatives, including the protection of some gun rights and a $103 million cut to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to prevent the implementation of provisions under the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law. Republican aides also boast that the measure defunds 20 “wasteful spending programs” that provide rank-and-file messaging fodder to tell constituents back home.

Still, a newly released actuarial report declaring the FHA has a “close to 50 percent chance” of triggering an emergency cash influx from the Treasury Department was enough to set off fresh concerns about the FHA loan limit provisions.

The housing element in the minibus was a compromise between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, who originally lobbied to allow for raising the loan limits on mortgages held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the FHA. In the final conference report, only FHA loans would get the increase.

That the report was released to Congress on Tuesday, one day after conferees issued their conference report, raised some eyebrows.

But Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which houses the FHA, said the full report was “a huge undertaking” and that the department needed to make sure it had all the relevant information for the fiscal year, as well as a report from the acting head of FHA about the findings.

When asked whether the FHA was pushing the increase, Sullivan said “absolutely not.” He added, “This is a debate that’s happening within the Congress.”

The FHA actuarial report says “the chance that future net losses on the current, outstanding portfolio could exceed current capital resources is close to 50 percent.” If losses exceeded capital resources, it would automatically trigger a “one-time transfer of monies” from the Treasury Department to bolster the FHA.

“The FHA piece has caused some consternation,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), adding that “a couple dozen” fellow Republicans could vote against the minibus because of the same concerns.

The Club for Growth slammed the decision to raise the loan limits in the minibus in light of the new report about the FHA when it announced it would “key vote” a “no” on the minibus.

“Including higher FHA loan limits on the heels of this audit report is beyond ridiculous,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said.

If passed by the House, the package is expected to clear the Senate this week.

Meanwhile, the Senate is considering the Energy and water development appropriations bill. Senate Democratic leaders had been seeking to work out a deal to add the State and foreign operations appropriations bill and the financial services and general government appropriations bill, making it a second minibus. But Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) abandoned that approach Tuesday in the face of opposition.

He also used a procedural maneuver Tuesday to block any amendments to be offered in an effort to work out what both sides consider a reasonable number of amendments that can be considered to the underlying bill.

Usually a move by Reid to block amendments would raise the ire of Republicans, but Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, said negotiations are still under way.

“He is preserving his right to get through the week and I … want to help him,” Alexander said, adding that Republicans have a raft of amendments they want to offer but “not a large number.”

Jonathan Strong contributed to this report.

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