Deal avoids shutdown, but not everyone is happy
WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republican lawmakers Tuesday that congressional leaders reached an agreement on a massive $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government through September, setting up votes later this week that would avert a shutdown, according to multiple lawmakers who attended a closed door session with the speaker.
The deal would suspend two major Obamacare taxes, lift the ban on crude oil exports, reauthorize a health insurance program for 9/11 first responders, and overhaul the visa waiver program, barring anyone who had visited Syria, Iraq and other possible terrorist hotspots in the last five years from entering the U.S. without a visa.
Leaders also struck an accord on a broad package of tax breaks worth about $600 billion, which makes permanent several key provisions for businesses related to research and development and expensing.
The breakthrough came days before lawmakers are set to leave Washington for the holidays. The government is currently set to run out of money Wednesday at midnight, and leaders will first have to pass another short-term funding measure lasting through next Tuesday as they move to approve the broader bill.
Oil-export ban lifted
Democrats late Tuesday night indicated they weren’t immediately happy with the bill’s proposed lifting of the decades-old oil export ban, suggesting there may be troubles getting the measure passed. A senior Democratic leadership aide told CNN that including the oil provision in the spending bill “undermines” support for the bill. Ryan will likely need the support of a significant chunk of the House Democratic caucus to offset expected opposition from conservative circles.
A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid refused to confirm a deal had been reached. “We will review language to ensure that all of our agreements are drafted accurately. The agreement will be final when we see the language reflects the negotiations,” Kristen Orthman said.
Yet Reid and Democrats pushed hard to win tax credits for renewable energy sources like wind and solar in exchange for the oil export ban, in what they saw as a worthwhile trade-off, Democratic aides said. Democrats also kept out GOP-sought provisions to block Obama administration EPA regulations, although Republican leaders pointed out that the bill holds the agency to its lowest level of funding since 2008.
Arkansas GOP Rep. Steve Womack called the change removing the 40 year old oil export prohibition “the big prize” for Republicans in the package.
“That’s one that is being heralded as a major accomplishment because the other side didn’t want it, we know that it’s important for our oil producing states and it is significant piece of what we believe needs to happen,” Womack said.
Democrats were unable to secure language to end the ban on the Centers for Disease Control Gun research on the impact of gun violence. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi personally appealed to Ryan on the issue, but many Republicans and the NRA opposed, and the spending bill keeps that prohibition in place.
Planned Parenthood language omitted
Ryan briefed House Republicans on the bipartisan agreement, ticking through the items the GOP considered significant policy accomplishments, including lifting the oil export ban and other tax breaks that the party had been fighting to enact for years, according to multiple lawmakers.
But conservatives came away empty-handed on social policy priorities.
The bill does not block federal money to Planned Parenthood, nor does it include legislation to require the Secretary of Homeland Security certify all refugees from Syria and Iraq do not pose a security threat.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters he wasn’t backing the deal, citing that “pro-life” policy riders and Syrian refugee language he and other conservatives were pushing were not in the bill.
But after terror attacks in Paris and a shooting in California, negotiators did agree to include a bill overhauling the visa waiver program, making anyone who visited Syria, Iraq or other terrorism hotspots to obtain a visa before traveling to the United States.
House GOP leaders also touted that the spending bill prevents the Obama administration from closing Guantanamo Bay and from transferring prisoners. They said they were able to prevent any new spending for Obamacare and blocked a program that would give insurers providing policies under the Affordable Care Act money, a provision pushed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the deal on both the bills “will provide permanent relief to families and job creators.”
The speaker told members he didn’t like the process that forced all these big spending bills to go into one package and vowed Congress would consider bills through regular order next year.
The roughly $600 billion tax package would postpone for two key Obamacare taxes for two years.
The first is the so-called Cadillac tax on expensive health care plans. The tax was designed to curb costs in the health care system by discouraging employers from providing overly generous health insurance plans to their workers through a 40% fee on high-end plans.
Halting the tax for two years was a top priority for many Democrats and Republicans as both labor unions and many big employers opposed it. However, the White House wanted to keep intact, in part, because it was designed to help pay for the President’s signature health care law.
The second is the medical device tax, which is another levy that helps pay for the Affordable Care Act. Manufacturers and importers of certain medical devices now must pay 2.3 percent tax on their sales. Republicans have been vocal critics of the tax, saying it will stifle growth of medical device industry. Some Democrats have also come out against the tax, especially those with medical device makers in their states.
Negotiators agreed to make permanent tax breaks aimed at assisting low income families, a priority for Democrats. They include the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as a tax credit for tuition assistance.
McConnell, Reid riders fail
Both Senate leaders were unable to get pet riders attached.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to add language to eliminate the cap on how much political party organizations, such as the Republican and Democratic national committees, can spend directly in coordination with their candidates.
A long-time opponent of campaign finance rules, McConnell argues the change would help even the playing field for the political parties against the Super PACs — which can raise unlimited amounts of cash — that have dominated recent elections.
And Reid wanted to place an amendment to a Depression-era bankruptcy law that could help Caesars, the struggling casino operator.
House Republicans were aiming to vote on the both the spending and tax bills on Thursday. But Ryan promised members would get three days to review the details and when the final legislative text wasn’t posted before midnight on Tuesday it’s likely the House vote could shift to Friday.