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Schumer: Senate closing in on omnibus amendments deal

'We are very close, but we're not there yet,' majority leader says

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talk as they arrive in the Capitol for a vote on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talk as they arrive in the Capitol for a vote on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer took to the floor at 2 a.m. Thursday to say an agreement was near to speed up passage of the massive fiscal 2023 omnibus spending bill, after senators spent the day Wednesday wrangling behind the scenes.

The chief dispute was over pandemic-era asylum restrictions that the Biden administration wants to lift, a move that Republicans and some Democrats say would exacerbate chaos at the border. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has an amendment to bar the administration from ending the so-called Title 42 policy; Republicans want a simple majority threshold for adoption, while Democrats want to raise the bar to 60 votes.

“It is my expectation we will be able to lock in an agreement on the omnibus tomorrow morning,” Schumer said. “We are very close, but we’re not there yet. “

The New York Democrat said the chamber would reconvene at 8 a.m., for a nomination vote, which he said would “bring everybody here to get final agreement and then to move forward.”

If a deal is struck, it could mean a lengthy day of amendment votes before final passage. But it would mark a sharp turnaround from the gloom expressed late Wednesday. The entire $1.7 trillion omnibus is now “hanging by a thread,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said on his way out of the Capitol.

Shortly before midnight, Schumer filed a cloture petition setting up a vote to end debate on Friday. But he expressed optimism that a deal was close, calling his cloture motion a “procedural safeguard.”

Without an agreement, however, it wasn’t even clear late Wednesday that the safeguard would work.

“They’re denying Sen. Lee a vote on the Title 42 extension,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters. “I don’t think there’s any Republican that would vote for cloture unless Mike gets a vote.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Democrats know Lee’s amendment would be adopted if it got a simple-majority vote. Cornyn said he believes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is sticking to his position that a continuing resolution extending into next year becomes the default option if the Senate can’t pass the omnibus on Thursday.

“It looks like we’re on a trajectory toward a CR,” Cornyn said late Wednesday.

Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said if the Lee amendment were attached it would sabotage the omnibus in the House later this week, including $47 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine.

“This measure is not going to become law, it doesn’t have the support in the House,” Murphy said. “And ultimately it’s just a tactic to try to take down the budget on a night when President Zelenskyy is begging us for this help.”

It was still unclear how many amendments would get votes even if a path forward on Title 42 is found. 

What appeared to be a finite universe of nine amendments as of early Wednesday had hit a dozen by late morning; later, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the list had grown to 17. Later in the day it became apparent the full realm of options was more than twice that, although it’s considered highly unlikely they all will get votes. 

Terror victims, gig workers and horses

The list of amendments ran the gamut.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., expects to get a vote on her amendment to backfill the cash-strapped World Trade Center Health Fund for first-responders who got sick after the 9/11 cleanup efforts. It would extend the program to 2027 and provide $1 billion to help ensure new claims can still be accepted, although that’s short of the $3.6 billion advocates had been seeking to fully erase the budget shortfall.

Relatedly, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have teamed up to provide $6 billion in compensation payments out of a fund for victims of state-sponsored terror, ranging from 9/11 families with a claim based on Iran’s alleged involvement to victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. Their amendment is fully offset, which could help put it over the top.

Another bipartisan effort centered on scaling back a new requirement for the 2022 tax year that online payment platforms and gig-working sites like eBay Inc., Uber Technologies Inc. and Venmo would have to report to the IRS when transactions total more than $600.

Democrats lowered the previous $20,000 threshold that kicked in at 200 separate transactions, in their 2021 pandemic relief law, which critics said created a burdensome new requirement on individuals casually selling goods online.

West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, and Republican Shelley Moore Capito offered separate amendments to delay the effective date of the change — to 2023 in Capito’s case, and 2024 in Manchin’s. Separately, Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., filed an amendment to scrap the new lower threshold entirely.

And Manchin was involved in another bipartisan effort, with Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, to scrap language McConnell included in the omnibus that would give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to regulate the horse racing industry.

A federal district court earlier had ruled that legislation McConnell put into the fiscal 2021 omnibus establishing a new, independent federal horse racing authority didn’t give the FTC enough of a say. McConnell’s new provision would fix that, but it earned the ire of groups like the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which argue that it wouldn’t be enough to correct problems in the original 2020 law.

Other notable recent amendments filed include the following:

  • A 111-page amendment from Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to reauthorize and modify the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority.
  • Two amendments from Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., containing the text of two measures she’s been trying to get added to must-pass vehicles of late, without success. One is based on a bill that would help news publishers and broadcasters by giving them a temporary exemption in antitrust law, allowing them to band together to negotiate better revenue-sharing deals with online platforms that share their content. The other is based on legislation to bar Big Tech companies from favoring their own products and services in a way that harms competition, such as by discriminating against certain business users of their service.
  • A Graham amendment to include his bill that would allow the Biden administration to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs and use them to fund economic aid for the Ukrainian people. He was earlier unsuccessful in getting the language into the defense authorization bill that cleared earlier this month.
  • A Cory Booker, D-N.J., amendment based on his legislation that would eliminate the criminal sentencing disparity for offenses involving crack and powdered cocaine, which didn’t make it into the omnibus because of GOP objections.
  • A Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., amendment to create a new fiscal commission charged with coming up with recommendations to balance the federal budget in 10 years and shore up entitlement programs over the longer term, which would then be subject to an expedited vote in Congress. 
  • A bipartisan amendment from Klobuchar, Graham and others to include their legislation to offer a path to permanent residency for Afghans evacuated out of that country after the Taliban takeover in 2021. While the measure has broad support, Thune said it wouldn’t have enough votes to be attached.

An earlier batch of amendments that Senate leadership had been considering, other than Lee’s Title 42 amendment, is listed below:

  • A Rand Paul, R-Ky., amendment to raise the 60-vote threshold for waiving budget points of order under the 1974 law establishing the modern budget process.
  • A Ron Johnson, R-Wis., amendment to strike the measure’s $15 billion-plus worth of home-state earmarks for members of both parties in both chambers.
  • A Johnson amendment to strike the use of border management funds in the bill for transporting migrants.
  • A Lee amendment to extend pay and benefits for Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, who is serving time in a Japanese prison for killing two people in a 2021 car crash.
  • A Bill Cassidy, R-La., amendment to attach a bipartisan bill he co-authored with Bob Casey, D-Pa., that would put in place protections for pregnant workers against workplace discrimination. 
  • Two second-degree amendments to Cassidy’s: one from Mike Braun, R-Ind., and another from James Lankford, R-Okla.

McCarthy visit

As senators debated which amendments to the massive package would get votes, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy attended the Senate Republicans’ steering lunch Wednesday, amid his attempt to secure the speakership in the next Congress.

McCarthy, who has been vocally against the omnibus for weeks, “made it clear” to Republican senators that he preferred a continuing resolution into the next Congress, Kennedy said. 

“Whether that will cause anyone to change their votes, I don’t know, we’ll find out,” Kennedy said. 

McCarthy also spoke about his desire to pass individual appropriations bills through regular order in the next Congress instead of an omnibus, said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Lindsey McPherson, David Lerman and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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