Environmental, Other Riders Threatening Omnibus Talks

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By David Schultz

Dec. 3 — Policy riders on environmental and other issues are causing negotiations over an upcoming omnibus spending bill to stall, casting into doubt whether Congress will be able to clear the bill before government funding expires Dec. 11.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, told Bloomberg BNA that her party rejected a draft version of the omnibus bill that Republicans proposed because it contained too many riders.

Some of these riders would block the EPA from implementing several new environmental regulations on water, ozone and climate change, while other riders would affect gun control policy or the status of Syrian refugees.

McCollum said this draft proposal from the Republicans contained even more riders than were in an EPA funding bill her subcommittee reported out earlier this year (H.R. 2822), which ultimately died on the House floor after a dispute over the display of the Confederate flag (46 ER 2082, 7/10/15).

She said Democrats have submitted an alternative proposal for the omnibus that is free of the most controversial riders, putting the ball back in the Republicans' court.

Time Seen Running Out

On the Republican side, top-ranking appropriators in both the House and the Senate told Bloomberg BNA that it is still unclear whether an omnibus bill will be introduced on Dec. 7, as was expected by many congressional staffers earlier this week.

If the bill is introduced later than that date, there may not be enough time to get it through procedural hurdles in both chambers before the Dec. 11 funding deadline, which could trigger a government shutdown.

McCollum said the Republican leadership is beginning to talk about passing a second temporary continuing resolution to extend the funding deadline and buy more time to negotiate, but she said Democrats would likely only agree to extending the deadline by no more than one week.

The federal government is operating under a temporary funding resolution that was passed Sept. 30 by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hours before the end of the 2015 fiscal year (46 ER 2956, 10/2/15).

EPA Funding

In addition to disagreements over riders, Republicans and Democrats have still not come to an agreement over how much funding the EPA should receive for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year.

Congress reached a new budget agreement on Oct. 30 that provided more funding for the federal government than was in prior iterations of spending bills that were reported out of appropriations committees earlier this year.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), McCollum's Republican counterpart on her House Appropriations subcommittee, told Bloomberg BNA that the two sides are “pretty close on the numbers side.”

However, Calvert declined to say whether the EPA will receive more funding in the omnibus than was included in H.R. 2822 from earlier this year.Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the EPA, said disputes over environmental provisions in the omnibus are proving to be some of the most difficult to resolve in these expansive negotiations over the must-pass federal spending legislation.

“Everybody is working as fast as they can,” she told Bloomberg BNA. “There's not a lot of time left on the calendar. But as long as everybody keeps talking, that's a good sign.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com