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It’s A Deal: Republicans Settle for Notable Omnibus Wins

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 10 - House Speaker Paul Ryan takes a question during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, December 10, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Republicans said Ryan deserved high praise for creating a more inclusive, collaborative environment in the lead-up to the omnibus negotiations. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been offering members the same refrain since taking the gavel from John A. Boehner two months ago.

He’d been dealt a bad hand by the old regime, according to the Wisconsin Republican, and the best thing for everyone was to make it through the end of the year so the Republican House can return to “regular order” and run the government as it should.

That message appears to be resonating within the conference, even as on Tuesday night negotiators announced they’d finalized a $1.1 trillion spending bill that contained far fewer Republican “wins” than many had been anticipating.

“I’m not real happy with the omnibus,” said Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn. “But if you’re going to move forward and follow Speaker Ryan’s notion that we’re going to move on the offense this year and go back to regular order and pass all the appropriations bills then I think many of my colleagues will look at it like I do, that we need to move past this, get this done. Let’s put 2015 behind us and get onto 2016.”

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Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., told reporters in many ways the process of negotiating the omnibus under Speaker Ryan probably wouldn’t have been much different under Speaker Boehner — since Ryan inherited Boehner’s budget deal and Senate Democrats filibustered the appropriations process on their side of the Rotunda.

Other Republicans, such as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said Ryan deserved high praise for creating a more inclusive, collaborative environment in the lead-up to the omnibus negotiations. “The people who are the central players in this deserve a lot of credit for fighting as hard as they did… the atmosphere in there, it’s changed so much in the past month,” King said.

It’s helpful to Ryan that he doesn’t appear to have undermined the goodwill he received in the very first days of his speakership. But in the days ahead he’ll have to harness that positive energy into lining up as many Republican votes as possible on the omnibus.

Relying on Democrats to carry final passage is risky — they could still object to some of the victories Republicans did enjoy — and even the optics of Democrats bailing out the GOP creates a public perception of the minority party enjoying an undue amount of leverage.

While conservatives left the Tuesday night meeting without the rage that accompanied many of Boehner’s “family discussions,” they still weren’t nearly ready to commit to supporting the spending bill on the floor.

The House Freedom Caucus fought for language to pause the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States and a series of anti-abortion provisions in lieu of fully defunding Planned Parenthood. According to Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., the HFC was only able to secure a 7 percent reduction in funding for international abortion providers.

“First of all, the spending’s, what, $8o billion more than we wanted?” Huelksamp said. “In exchange for that, I thought we should have had a lot more pro-life riders, border security riders that we talked about. We have a long ways to go.”

Ryan had been trying to temper expectations for days: In divided government, no party gets everything it wants.

Republicans did extract some concessions in the spending bill. They won a repeal of the decades-old ban on crude oil exports, which had been a major sticking point even in the final hours of negotiations.

A House GOP aide said other victories included a prohibition on gene-editing, a repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements and a freeze on some Internal Revenue Services operations as punishment for allegedly preventing conservative groups from obtaining tax-exempt status.

Republicans also touted among their “wins” the inclusion of recently-passed bipartisan legislation to strengthen the visa waiver program and reauthorization of a bill extending health benefits to first responders in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The GOP also has set the gears in motion for passage this week on package of “tax extenders,” which is anticipated to be a party-line vote in the House with Republicans in favor and Democrats mostly opposed. The extenders bill and the omnibus are expected to be voted on separately in the House but sent to the Senate combined, almost ensuring it will be cleared for the president’s signature.

But Republicans didn’t secure a policy rider curtailing the so-called “fiduciary rule” contained in the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul bill much maligned by the GOP. They weren’t able to undo a recent National Labor Relations Board ruling related to joint employment status or undermine the Obama administration’s normalization efforts with Cuba.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not succeed in advancing his campaign finance provision that would have relaxed restrictions on coordination between political parties and candidates.

“A lot of good riders didn’t make it,” said Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations subcommittee chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla.

Republican leaders in both chambers hope to complete their work by the week’s end to let everyone enjoy a holiday recess before the second session of the 114th Congress convenes in January, but a lot can happen just in the next several hours.

House Republicans and House Democrats each have party meetings scheduled at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, with members and aides saying they’d be up late reading the omnibus text. Wednesday will be pivotal, with leadership starting to whip the omnibus and a clear sense of the vote count beginning to materialize.

As cover, Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown until Dec. 22. Members expect — and hope — to be finished with their work long before then.

Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.

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