House Democrats on Wednesday raised objections to the inclusion of language in a year-end spending bill that would repeal a decades old oil export ban, but the legislative package appears to be on its way to passage after Senate Democrats and the White House threw their support behind the deal struck with congressional Republicans.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told members in a closed-door session Wednesday morning that she did not yet know how she would vote on the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill and asked members to hold off on announcing their decision until they have fully reviewed the bill. But most members leaving the meeting said they still expect the omnibus spending measure to pass later this week even as Democrats hope to force Republicans to make additional concessions ahead of the vote.
“I think the omnibus is probably going to be passed but I do think there is a great deal of consternation about some of the provisions that are in it,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).
Senate Democrats and the White House took a more positive stance, praising the spending agreement as well as a separate deal with Republicans on a $622 billion tax package arguing it is the best that could be hoped for in a divided government.
Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the agreement a good compromise that includes provisions that benefit both parties without compromising principles. He outlined victories for Democrats, including expanded funding for domestic programs and expanded tax credits for alternative energy production.
“Sometime in the darkness the bill was finalized,” Reid said “No legislation is perfect, but this is good legislation.”
The White House issued a policy statement later in the day praising the deal as one that will keep the government funded through September and is “free of new unrelated ideological riders” while the tax package is a “critical step toward a simpler, fairer tax code and a stronger economy.” It urged members to pass both bills.
The House plans to vote on the tax package Thursday and the spending bill Friday. The Senate hopes to quickly clear the package after it arrives in the upper chamber.
Some Democrats hope to use the next few days to pressure Republicans to commit to future negotiations on priorities such as debt relief for Puerto Rico. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, said Pelosi was in constant talks with Ryan looking for potential solutions.
“It becomes a matter of trying to balance the equities,” Israel said. “The next two days will be about balancing the equities.”
There is evidence Democrats’ calls to aid Puerto Rico are gaining traction. On Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) announced plans to work with the island territory early next year on managing its debt crisis.
“While we could not agree to including precedent-setting changes to bankruptcy law in this omnibus spending bill, I understand that many members on both sides of the aisle remain committed to addressing the challenges facing the territory,” Ryan said in a statement. “That’s why I am instructing our House committees of jurisdiction to work with the Puerto Rican government to come up with a responsible solution by the end of the first quarter of next year.”
The Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday also expressed concerns with both the tax and spending bill, saying neither does enough for low-income communities.
“We call upon the House and Senate leadership to allow the budget deal to be revised to include protections for vulnerable families and communities,” CBC Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said in a statement.
Pelosi held meetings throughout Wednesday with CBC members, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Progressive Caucus to discuss the tax and spending bills.
The consternation among Democrats over lifting the oil ban underscores the difficult procedural maneuvering House GOP leaders need to employ to soon enact the spending bill, that will fund the government through September, and an accompanying package of tax breaks.
Most Democrats oppose lifting the export ban, but they relented during year-end negotiations when Republicans agreed to expand renewable energy tax credits that are included in a separate $650 billion package of tax breaks for businesses and individuals.
Democrats wanted the language lifting the oil ban included in the tax bill, which most will vote against, as opposed to the spending bill, which they will need to support to avoid a government shutdown.
Most Republicans, however, are reluctant to vote for spending increases in the appropriations bill without the oil provision as an incentive.
Several members and aides said voting to lift the export ban may frustrate Democrats, but it’s the only way to ensure the omnibus has enough Republican votes to pass the House.
“The export provision is certainly a very bitter pill, I think, for a great many of us,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Calif.).
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) focused on courting enough Republican votes to ensure the tax and spending bills pass.
“In a divided government, no one gets exactly what they want,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday before ticking off a list of Republican wins in the deal.
He called lifting of the oil export ban “a big win for our manufacturers and our foreign policy.” He also highlighted the provisions negotiated in the tax bill, which he called “one of the biggest steps we’ve taken toward a rewrite of our tax code in many years.”
House leaders hoped to pass both the tax and spending bills Thursday, but the appropriations package was not released until early Wednesday morning and Ryan has pledged to abide by a party rule requiring parts of three days to elapse after a bill has been introduced before holding a floor vote.
The House and Senate both passed a stop-gap spending bill by voice vote on Wednesday, giving Congress until Dec. 22 to complete work on the tax and spending bills.
Ryan said he understood the dissatisfaction of conservatives who expected more policy wins in the deal. But he said he “inherited a process” from former Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who stepped down in October.
“We played the cards we were dealt as best as we possibly could,” he said.
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report