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Spending and Taxes Spur Christmas Rush

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Before heading home for the holidays, lawmakers will have to navigate divisions over a catch-all spending bill to avoid shutting down the government. The continuing resolution currently funding the government expires Dec. 11.  

If they succeed — and finish other work such as renewing dozens of expired tax breaks, overhauling the visa waiver program and approving a budget reconciliation measure — then the House, at a minimum, will break for the year.  

Appropriators spent the past week trying to reach an agreement on policy riders to the $1.1 trillion omnibus, with Republicans and Democrats trading offers.  

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid cited the Dec. 4 jobs report news in again calling for an omnibus without policy provisions they consider noxious.  

“The economy is improving for middle class Americans, and the nation has now experienced sixty-nine consecutive months of private sector job growth,” the Nevada Democrat said in a statement. “We must build on this progress by passing an omnibus funding bill free of special interest poison pill, ideological riders to responsibly fund our nation’s government.”  

At issue was language making it tougher for Syrian refugees to enter the United States, as well as measures targeting the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers’ “Waters of the U.S.” regulations, and rules governing the financial markets and the workplace. Whether to attach a California drought measure also surfaced as an issue on Dec. 4.  

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said his goal is to have a final omnibus bill drafted and posted by Monday, which would allow a House vote on the measure as soon as Wednesday. That could mean Tuesday’s conference meetings in both chambers could be pivotal in building support — or opposition.  

Conservatives in the House, who have been involved in negotiations, were seeking language to give states the power to redirect Planned Parenthood funding to clinics that do not provide abortions and they’d also block language that would remove caps on the amount of money political parties can spend on candidates.  

The campaign finance provision is being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has long championed an expansive reading of the First Amendment when it comes to political spending.  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan has made it a cornerstone of his young speakership to line up support from a majority of Republicans on major bills. The extent of his conference’s support for the omnibus will show whether the Wisconsin Republican can deliver on that promise.  

As a former Ways and Means chairman, Ryan is quite familiar with the other big piece of the get-out-of-town puzzle.  

Congress must pass another one-year retroactive extension of a slew of expired tax provisions to ensure taxpayers can claim the incentives for 2015. But a two-year extension is more likely should a deal on a larger package with more long-term extensions fall through.  

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the Finance Committee, said last week that with Democrats seeking long-term policy on some refundable tax credits, the measure was “getting big.”  

Earlier in the week, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats were prioritizing tax policies that most directly affect lower- to middle-income Americans, such as expansions of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit that will expire in 2017.  

In the interest of maximizing efficiency, given the potential for procedural hurdles and filibuster threats on the Senate side, the spending package and the tax extenders bill could move separately, be hitched together — or travel on another moving vehicle.  

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has already indicated the House could take up a conference report for a customs bill that is the final piece of the legislative package that revived “fast track” trade promotion authority earlier in the year, and there’s a case for dropping the deal on the lapsed tax benefits into that customs measure for procedural reasons.  

Before taking up the omnibus or tax extenders measures, though, the House will begin the week with a vote Tuesday on a bipartisan visa waiver bill. (The chamber is not holding votes Monday because of an event at the White House.) The bill, introduced by Rep. Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., would make it more difficult for individuals from countries the Homeland Security secretary considers hotspots for terrorist activity to obtain visas.  

Depending on timing, visa waiver legislation might also find its way into the omnibus spending bill or another moving vehicle.  

The Senate is kicking off its week with a routine judicial nomination before seeking to clear the conference report on the elementary and secondary education measure that would replace No Child Left Behind.  

The House is also expected to take up the reconciliation measure repealing most of Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood that the Senate expanded and passed on Dec. 3. President Barack Obama has said he will veto such a measure.


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