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Congress Sends Omnibus to Obama

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate passed a year-end omnibus package that combined a $1.1 trillion spending bill with a tax extenders measure, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature and wrapping up Congress’ 2015 legislative session.  

The Senate voted 65-33 to pass the package, after a series of procedural votes Friday morning. Twenty six Republicans, including GOP presidential hopefuls Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, voted against the package, along with seven members across the aisle, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.  

The year-end package passed with little drama in the Senate, after Senate leaders locked up votes on Thursday, heading off any effort to slow down the process. GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had threatened Thursday that he might used procedural methods to slow it down. But on Friday, Rubio was not present for the final vote. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was also not present for the vote.  

At a press conference after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., touted the omnibus spending bill and tax extender package as a victory for his party. They argued the Senate has been able to function again because they are a more cooperative minority than Republicans were before them.  

Earlier in the day, the House passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill, leaving the Senate to clear the omnibus for the president’s signature. House Passes Omnibus

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The legislation to fund government operations through the remainder of fiscal 2016 passed the House, 316-113, with 166 Democrats shoring up the majority of support. But 150 Republicans also voted for it, a significantly larger number than the party has had on previous bills of similar consequence.  

And there were reasons for both sides to claim victories.  

On the Republican side of the aisle, 95 House members voted against the omnibus. Dissenters largely hailed from the House Freedom Caucus and other conservative contingents of the conference, but also included committee chairmen such as Judiciary’s Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Transportation and Infrastructure’s Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania. A member of Republican leadership, Conference Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas, also voted no.  

But by and large Republicans gave Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., a major victory, with the majority of GOP lawmakers voting in favor of the bill — something unheard of in recent institutional history. They rewarded him for facilitating an open process that empowered rank-and-file members more than in the past.  

Following passage of the bill, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told reporters the Republican victory was the product of a new level of trust in the conference.  

“We worked really hard and set an objective early off to get a majority of the majority,” Scalise said. “We put in plan in place in the beginning of this week to do that and it involved a lot of meetings with groups of members. The speaker came into all those meetings personally, so he got directly engaged.  

“I had asked him at the beginning of the week, ‘we’re going to put a plan in place to get to the majority of the majority, it’s going to be uphill but if everything goes well we can get there,’ and he said, ‘I’m all in, let me know what I can do,'” Scalise continued. “And he was fully engaged, including talking about the things we’re going to be doing next year that our members really want to engage in to go fight the administration on even more fronts, and Paul made it clear the more votes we have the more leverage we’re going to have in those fights.”  

In a rare vote for a speaker, Ryan recorded his position as “yes.”  

Meanwhile, as conservatives were grumbling in the lead up to Friday’s vote that Republican leaders did not extract enough policy wins for the amount of money they planned to spend, progressives expressed frustration that their own leaders and the White House were willing to swallow a bill that lifted the decades-long band on crude oil exports and provided no bankruptcy relief for Puerto Rico, which is in deep in a fiscal crisis.  

Democratic leaders did not formally whip in favor of the legislation, arguing it was Republicans’ bill and thus the GOP’s responsibility to get it over the finish line.  

However, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her top lieutenants sensed Thursday there could be major trouble if Democrats did not come together to help Republicans make their numbers, and went into overdrive to explain to members the consequences of rebuffing the measure.  

They hammered home the message that while the oil-exports policy rider and lack of financial reinforcement for Puerto Rico were deeply troubling, Democrats should not lose sight of the reality that Republicans in many ways lost at the negotiating table: There were dozens of policy riders Democrats deemed “poison pills” which would also not have survived a Senate filibuster or withstood the president’s signature.  

Pelosi also did not miss an opportunity to restate Democrats’ leverage.  

“I don’t think they would have passed it” without Democratic support, Pelosi said of Republicans Friday morning, before the omnibus vote. “If I thought they did, it would have been a different story.”  

Ultimately, only 17 Democrats voted against the omnibus, a group that included the two co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus: Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Only one member of Democratic leadership, caucus chairman Xavier Becerra of California, opposed the legislation.  

Even Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield, who on Thursday seemed to be on the verge of leading a revolt against the omnibus because it failed to sufficiently target funding to low-income communities, voted yes.  

Republicans may have gotten the majority of their majority to vote for the bill, but Democrats provided the majority of votes — 166 — to send the legislation to the Senate.  

Senate Passes Omnibus

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