$1.1T Omnibus Goes to Senate Floor, Last Stop Before White House

By Nancy Ognanovich

The 11-bill omnibus appropriations package securing $1.1 trillion in funds for the federal government is set to be put to a final vote in the Senate on May 4 and then moved to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

Senate Republican leaders predicted the chamber will clear that measure closing out fiscal year 2017 appropriations work on a strong vote and have it headed to the White House well before a current stopgap measure expires May 5 at midnight. The House passed the bill May 3.

“The omnibus will be brought up under a consent agreement and we expect it to be passed by Thursday afternoon,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Bloomberg BNA.

Republican leaders are anxious to pass the massive spending bill before the deadline and in the process remove any threat of a government shutdown. Enactment of the measure also will clear the way for appropriators to begin work on funding the government in FY 2018, which begins in only five months.

After the House passed the legislation following a short debate, the bill was quickly sent to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture and set up the May 4 vote.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said some members of both parties will vote against the omnibus but that it will emerge from the Senate on a solid bipartisan vote.

“There are people on both sides who will find something to object to, but I think the broad middle will hold,” Thune told Bloomberg BNA. “I think the roll call will be in the 70s.”

Cornyn: No Shutdown

Lawmakers said they expect Trump to sign the omnibus into law, despite disparaging comments the president made about the final bill and the negotiations that produced it. During a final round of talks, Democrats managed to block the president’s demands for money for border wall money, forced the elimination of many “poison pill” riders, and held down the Defense Department increases Trump wanted.

Republicans and Democrats in both chambers said they have no appetite for the “good shutdown” Trump suggested is in the offing next September if he doesn’t get a better deal on FY 2018 spending. The president made the suggestion via Twitter on May 2.

“We’re not going to have any shutdown, no new shutdown,” Cornyn said when asked about Trump’s comments.

Cornyn spoke as the House was preparing to bring up the omnibus, which was a Senate amendment to a unrelated veterans bill (H.R. 244). The measure was brought up under a structured rule that permitted no amendments and was passed after a short debate.

The final vote on the omnibus was 309-118. As expected, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had to rely heavily on support from Democrats to offset the loss of conservatives’ votes to get the omnibus across the finish line.

Supporting the omnibus were 131 Republicans and 178 Democrats. Opposing the bill were 103 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

Both sides described the omnibus as a fair compromise, reflecting the $1.070 trillion discretionary spending cap in the two-year bipartisan budget agreement and its divisions for defense and domestic spending. On top of that is $93.5 billion in so-called Overseas Contingency Operations funding for the military and other purposes, bringing the total to $1.163 trillion.

The bill also carries $8.2 billion in emergency and disaster funding.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said the $25 billion increase for defense provided for 2017 amounts to a big win for the military. But Republicans also praised increases in the package for domestic priorities, including $781 million to address the opioid crisis.

Former Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who praised what he said is record funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, said lawmakers should recognize, however, that the package also contains many cuts and program eliminations. Among other things, he said, Internal Revenue Service funds would be frozen and the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency would be cut by $81 million.

But Ryan said he believes “the most game-changing” aspect of the package was what he said is the abandonment of the “parity” rule that required defense increases to be accompanied by similar non-defense increases. Democrats have taken issue with that characterization, but the speaker said “no longer will the needs of the military be held hostage.”

“That defense and non-defense parity is no more,” Ryan said.

Democrats, including House Appropriations ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), praised the demise of more than 160 “poison pill” riders in final negotiations with Republicans. But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of Appropriations, argued they are no longer essential to the GOP.

“We don’t need to pass them anymore,” Cole said. “Almost 160 of those were designed to limit or reverse rulings of the administration, either rules or executive decisions. Well, Mr. Trump is now the president of the United States and he is going to have the ability to do almost all of those things on his own.”

Cole said the hard work begins now on trying to develop and pass acceptable bills for 2018 before the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Rather than a shutdown, Cole said, appropriations may seek another stopgap then.

“The ’18 appropriations process will be extremely difficult and truncated and it will make work harder and we may well find ourselves back here in a matter of months asking for some kind of brief extension,” Cole said.

McConnell Defends Bill

McConnell urged lawmakers to vote for the package, laying out the case for the legislation in extended comments on the Senate floor May 3.

"[I]t advances conservative priorities in many areas,” McConnell said. “It adheres to the spending caps, reforms bureaucracy, and consolidates, eliminates, or rescinds funds for more than 150 government programs and initiatives. “

McConnell cited the freeze to IRS funds, the EPA cuts and the extension of the school choice program.

But Thune said many Senate Republicans will still vote against the omnibus.

“We have some of our members who are just flat opposed to doing these kinds of bills, who want to have a normal appropriations process,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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