House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has said he will give members three days to review any deal.. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Congressional negotiators on Monday neared a bipartisan deal on a year-end spending and tax package that would increase domestic and military funding, lift the ban on crude oil exports and extend several tax breaks for businesses and individuals.
Negotiators worked through the weekend and staff is now trying to complete work on outstanding issues in hopes of releasing a bill on Tuesday. The top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), told reporters that the majority of disagreements over funding levels in the spending bill have been resolved and that leaders are negotiating any outstanding disagreements over unrelated policy riders.
“We’re making a lot of progress,” Mikulski said. “I thought we were going to be done yesterday.”
It is unlikely that Congress will be able to complete work on the package before a stop-gap spending bill runs out at the end of Wednesday. Aides said they expect both the House and Senate will vote early this week on a second short-term continuing resolution, lasting a few days, to buy more time to pass the deal.
Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said Monday that the timing and length of a short-term extension will be determined once the spending bill is introduced.
“For the House to follow its rules under regular order it is going to take a little while to process everything,” Thune said.
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If the agreement is completed by Tuesday morning, the House could vote on Thursday on two separate bills. One would contain the tax break package, which could extend some provisions permanently, and language lifting the 40-year ban on crude oil exports. The second would be a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2016.
Splitting up the votes this way would allow House leaders to pass the tax package with mostly Republican votes and the spending deal with a large amount of Democratic votes. If both pass, they would be rolled into one bill that the Senate would consider.
The timing of the Senate vote is contingent on how long it takes the House to pass the package. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised to give his members three days to read the text of an agreement before holding a vote.
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A big tax and spending package would be the last chance lawmakers have this year to force a pet policy issue into law and Republicans have been fighting for weeks to attach nearly 50 unrelated policy riders to the omnibus spending bill. Democrats have insisted they won’t vote for a package that includes so-called “poison-pill” riders and the White House has repeatedly threatened to veto similar measures.
Aides have long expected that Republicans would be forced to walk away from some demands if they hope to pass a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in an interview on Thursday that many conservatives are upset that the budget agreement reached in October increases spending across the board and they are unlikely to support any year-end deal.
McConnell does not have enough Republican votes to pass the legislation without the support of Democrats.
“So I’m not terribly optimistic that we’re going to be able to get very many” policy riders, McConnell said. “The bills, after all, still have to pass a Senate in which Democrats are not irrelevant, and be signed by a president who initiated all these actions.”
Several issues remained unresolved Monday, including an ongoing disagreement over the fate of several tax breaks for renewable energy sources. Democrats want expanded tax breaks for clean and renewable energy in exchange for agreeing to lift the ban on oil exports.
Top Democrats declined to directly link the two issues in recent weeks, but Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters on Thursday that he thought it would be reasonable to expand the renewable credits or scale back breaks that oil producers get already if the export ban is lifted.
“There is strong feeling that something that’s worth up to $200 billion to the oil industry ought to be of some value to the rest of America too,” Durbin said. “I think this is a very profitable industry and this will add to their profitability and paying more into sustaining our nation and helping it grow is not unreasonable.”
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Democrats are also still pushing to include language that would allow Puerto Rico to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Republicans blocked an effort by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to pass a stand-alone bill that would have extended bankruptcy protection to the island territory. Now many top Democrats are pushing to include some debt relief in the year-end package.
Paul Kane contributed to this story