Omnibus Spending Deal Elusive, Increasing Odds of New Stopgap

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By Nancy Ognanovich

A deal finalizing an 11-bill omnibus spending package continues to elude the White House and congressional leaders, raising the likelihood the House and Senate will soon start moving a new stopgap measure to prevent any lapse in federal funding at midnight on April 28, lawmakers said.

While the White House gave ground on its demand for border wall money and its plan to cut off payments under the Affordable Care Act, both top Democrats and Republicans said there still are other issues to resolve before they can sign off on an omnibus to close out fiscal year 2017 appropriations.

Lawmakers didn’t rule out a scenario in which a final deal to wrap up the spending bills is reached before the current continuing resolution funding the government expires at week’s end. But they said a new stopgap may be needed to buy time to move the massive package across the floors of both chambers.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are working to finish the bills for fiscal year 2017, which began in October. The legislation was shelved in December to give President Donald Trump more say in federal spending. But the White House now could be facing a government shutdown on Trump’s 100th day in office unless a new continuing resolution (CR) is passed in time.

Republicans control all the levers of government, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) demonstrated in recent days the influence the minority still has over legislation. Ryan and McConnell both are expected to have to rely on Democrats’ votes to get the final bill passed and on its way to Trump’s desk.

Pelosi and Schumer acknowledged Trump’s decision to drop his demand for $1.4 billion for a border wall and agreement to continue Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments as required by the ACA. But both lawmakers said there are many other items left to resolve, including the disposition of “poison pill” riders, before a deal on the omnibus is reached.

“Our major concerns in these negotiations have been about funding for the wall and uncertainty about the CSR payments crucial to the stability of the marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act,” Pelosi said shortly after the White House confirmed Trump had backed down from plans to stop the payments. “We’ve now made progress on both of these fronts.

“More progress needs to be made on some of our priorities, and we continue to be concerned about poison pill riders that are still in this legislation,” Pelosi said. “Our appropriators are working in good faith toward a bipartisan proposal to keep government open.”

Omnibus, ACA Linked

Ryan and McConnell remained mum on next moves, with Ryan continuing to express optimism that a deal wrapping up the omnibus is “really close.”

“The administration, [Office of Management and Budget], along with our appropriators, are down to the last final things,” Ryan told reporters early April 26. “I think we’re making really good progress.”

Ryan said there would be no language in the appropriations package to deal with CSR payments.

“That is something that the administration does,” Ryan told reporters. “We’re very, very close on everything else and now it’s just getting down to the final details.”

Ryan said it is not the GOP’s “intention or goal” to pass another CR. “We want to get this done on time,” he said. “That’s our plan.”

But as Ryan laid plans to soon move on to a new bill to repeal and replace the ACA, Pelosi and other Democrats made clear they wouldn’t move ahead on the omnibus without assurances the White House will continue the CSR payments.

Pelosi issued a statement sharply criticizing OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, the former head of the House Freedom Caucus, who she blamed for the 2013 government shutdown, and signaled Democrats weren’t ready to wrap up the talks.

“Instead of working with Democrats to avert another disastrous Republican government shutdown, the Trump administration is cruelly threatening to raise health premiums on millions of families,” Pelosi said. “Millions of Americans would see their out-of-pocket costs skyrocket and premiums would immediately be driven up by at least 15 percent.”

With next steps on the package unclear, the White House confirmed Trump was backing off for the time being.

“While we agreed to go ahead and make the CSR payments for now, we haven’t made a final decision about future commitments,” a White House aide told Bloomberg BNA.

Schumer said Trump’s move brings the two sides closer to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government but said there still is no final deal.

“There are outstanding issues to be resolved, particularly with riders, but this is a positive development for the negotiation,” Schumer said.

Riders Still Under Discussion

Senate appropriators watching from across the Capitol said the developments suggest that both chambers will have to pass a new CR even if a deal on the omnibus is reached by April 28.

“My impression is it’s going to take a few days [with a new CR in effect] to get us to where we need to be,” said Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who expects extra Milcon-VA funds to be in the final package.

“I think that while the Senate and House leadership have worked through the issues of ACA funding and the border wall, most of the work now remaining involves several dozen riders, which are being negotiated at the committee leadership level,” Moran told Bloomberg BNA. “It seems [that the] riders that are being negotiated are the ones we always have. I assume it takes it into the middle of next week.”

Schumer said those items include riders targeting women’s reproductive rights, the Dodd-Frank Act, and environmental rules.

"[T]hose are the kind of poison pill riders that could hurt an agreement,” Schumer said.

With much in flux, House Republican leaders undertook moves to ensure that the House is able to meet during a Saturday session, if necessary, to pass a government funding bill.

The House Rules Committee approved a rule providing that the House can bring up any matter on the same day through April 29.

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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