House GOP Leaders Start Whipping 12-Bill Omnibus

By Nancy Ognanovich

House Republican leaders are set to begin whipping support for a 12-bill, $1 trillion appropriations package that they want to bring to the floor a few days before the August recess starts, senior Appropriations Committee members said. Top committee “cardinals” told Bloomberg BNA that lawmakers were sent links to the panel’s 12 bills to evaluate over the weekend. GOP leaders will begin assessing support for packaging them into one measure soon after the House returns to work the evening of July 17.

“We’ll do a whip count on Monday night and then we’ll see,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the GOP whip team as well as an Appropriations Committee cardinal. “There’s no point in doing this unless the votes are there.”

Cole said following a Republican conference meeting that GOP leaders’ fallback position, if they sense an omnibus could fail, will be to simply package the bills the party likes best—Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and other “security” bills—and push that through before the recess.

Lawmakers are working to demonstrate action on the bills before the five-week recess because fiscal year 2017 funding for the federal government expires Sept. 30. However, they aren’t expected to be finished by that deadline and Cole and others have said they expect Congress to resort to another stopgap measure to fund the government in the fall.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), chairman of the Milcon-VA subcommittee, said his bill will be included in whatever package GOP leaders decide to advance. But he downplayed the effort, saying the numbers reflected in those bills still won’t become law.

“It either will be all of them or some of them. It depends on the whip count,” Dent told Bloomberg BNA. “But what I can say is these numbers are going to be renegotiated once there’s the inevitable bipartisan, bicameral budget agreement [and] these numbers all change.”

Whip the Omnibus

Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) has released all 12 bills and now is planning to use the week of July 17 to mark up the last of them. The markup sessions begin that evening with Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. On July 18, the full committee plans to mark up the Homeland Security and Interior-Environment bills.

Cole, chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, said his bill will be marked up in full committee July 19. Also on the agenda that day is the State and Foreign Operations bill.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the State-Foreign Operations panel, said the plan then calls for that bill and all others to be packaged in an omnibus.

“We’re going to put all the bills together,” Rogers told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s been the plan for the last couple of months.”

Rogers said lawmakers are reviewing the bills and have been promised that they will be able to offer amendments to the package on the floor. He said at this point that the package—which sharply boosts spending on defense programs, while cutting domestic programs—has a “pretty good chance” of winning sufficient support from Republicans to offset the expected loss of Democrats’ votes.

Among others, the defense bill at $658.1 billion represents a $68.1 billion increase over current spending and the $88.8 billion Milcon-VA bill carries a $6 billion increase. But the State-Foreign Ops bill that Rogers’ panel recently reported represents a $10 billion cut.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) praised appropriators’ work, conducted in the absence of an official FY 2018 budget resolution. The latter, he said, now will be marked up the week of July 17.

“I have never seen appropriators work like they have this year, knowing that we have a new administration, knowing that you get the budget late, but they have every single bill, all 12,” McCarthy said in floor comments.

But McCarthy refused to discuss specifics on how the measures will be brought to the floor. Typically, they are brought up individually during the summer.

“No decision has been made yet, knowing that we are in a different situation with the new administration,” McCarthy told Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “There’s an opportunity to do it differently, but be able to make sure we take up all the bills. I’ll keep the gentleman notified when the decisions are made.”

‘Fake Numbers’ for Now: Dent

But Dent said that exercise—whether it’s all the bills or just the ones popular with the Republican caucus—is only the start of this year’s process.

Still ahead will be the bicameral, bipartisan talks aimed at winning another budget agreement that lifts the Budget Control Act’s spending caps and removes the threat of sequestration for both defense and non-defense, he said. A resolution on that matter is still months away, Dent said.

“They can whip this thing through on a partisan basis, but at the end of the day, the [challenge] is getting an omnibus with the real numbers, not the fake numbers,” Dent said.

Even if the House passes the package, there won’t be the required 60 votes in the Senate for it to advance, lawmakers said. The Senate Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, only recently reported its first bill: Milcon-VA.

Dent said he isn’t aware of any budget talks getting under way yet but said they will be necessary to get the needed Democratic support for the final package.

“Probably a lot of people are going to vote for the fake numbers but not the real ones later at the end of the year, so that’s the challenge that we’re faced with,” Dent 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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