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GOP Hope Collides With Omnibus Reality

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 15 - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks beside Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., left, and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, during their weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, December 15, 2015 (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
McConnell and his leadership team hope other senators will allow an early vote on the year-end measures. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Hope and reality in Congress’ endgame collided Tuesday as lawmakers struggled to wrap up the year by fulfilling their most basic responsibility: funding the government.

Republicans leaders in the House and Senate have been taking victory laps this year, promising an end to dysfunction and that the people’s business will be conducted openly and in regular order.

But after breezing past a Dec. 11 deadline to appropriate money for the rest of the fiscal year and now on the cusp of breaching another one Wednesday, those leaders will be reduced to hoping their rank-and-file members don’t insist on too thorough a reading of the $1.1 trillion measure and that no one exercises readily available rules to prolong debate.

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Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday the House will likely vote on the deal Thursday, in order to adhere to his promise to give his members three days to review legislation before voting on it.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota laid out the best case scenario, which would require all senators to sign off.

“If we receive it from the House and there’s no objection, if there’s a high level of cooperation, we could vote on it Thursday. If people want additional time, want to use the time it’s allowed for under Senate procedures, we could extend it over the weekend,” Thune said.

Republican leaders are optimistic that presidential campaign schedules (Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., are all running) and everyone else’s desire to get out of town will prevail and allow a Thursday vote. Still, Thune said there was no guarantee of that.

“But at this point I just don’t know the answer to that. And probably won’t, at least for a while, especially since we have a bunch of our guys — we have a lot of people in Las Vegas this week,” he said, referring to Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate in Nevada.

That hope for the best approach is a far cry from the way GOP leaders have said they want the institution to work.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Roll Call last week, “I think I can safely say here at the end of the first year of this new majority, dysfunction is over.”

But Ryan said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday that he wasn’t happy with this year’s late-year maneuverings. “This is not how government should work. I’ve been very clear about that. That’s why, now that we have a new year coming, I want to do things differently, which is, we call it ‘regular order’ around here. That means we shouldn’t be doing these big mega bills at the end of the year with all these countdowns.”

Negotiators spent all day Tuesday finalizing those “mega-deals” — an omnibus spending bill and a package of provisions to extend expiring tax breaks. A key point of contention on the $600 billion tax measure was whether to lift the U.S. ban on oil exports.

House Democratic leaders led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer have come out against the entire package, while Senate Democrats have been trying to lock in incentives for renewable energy.

House Republicans were bullish about their wins, while acknowledging they wouldn’t get everything on the conservative wish list.

“I think our wins are probably going to come mostly on tax policy and the oil export ban,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a veteran appropriator said.

That comports with what Ryan said earlier in the day at a Politico breakfast event. “Democrats won some, they lost some; we won some, we lost some,” he said.

One of those Democratic wins was fending off language that would put up barriers to Syrian and Iraqi refugees settling in the United States. “The speaker has said, to his credit, has said that on the omnibus there would be nothing that dealt with refugees. That’s good,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after Tuesday’s policy lunches.

That didn’t sit well with the leader of House conservatives.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, predicted that the omnibus will not get a lot of conservative votes without the provision to enhance the certification process for Syrian refugees. “I want to see the final bill but my guess is from everything we’ve heard you’re going to see a lot of people vote no,” he said Tuesday night.

The imminent release of the deal led to a flurry of meetings across the Capitol.

The House GOP conference met at 9 p.m. Tuesday night, then scheduled another meeting just 12 hours later Wednesday morning. That led some around the Capitol that members should just crash for the night somewhere in the House basement. Senate Republicans will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

House Democrats took up their usual spot in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday night.

All of this debate about the final deal was piled onto the need for both chambers to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open past Wednesday, when the measure Congress passed last Friday expires. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest warned that while President Barack Obama was inclined to support another short-term bill, Congress approaching the end of his patience.

“Let’s hope we don’t reach it,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski, Lindsey McPherson, John T. Bennett, Emma Dumain, Tamar Hallerman and Alan K. Ota contributed to this report.

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