Omnibus Strategy, Details in Flux as Deadline Nears

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By Nancy Ognanovich

House and Senate Republicans’ plans to get a massive omnibus appropriations package through both chambers before a critical April 28 deadline continue to be in flux, with GOP leaders saying both the strategy for moving the must-pass legislation and its final details remain under negotiation.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said lawmakers are still trying to decide whether the omnibus to close out fiscal 2017 appropriations work will move separately or carry the supplemental funding President Donald Trump wants for defense and border security. Ryan also declined to confirm reports the House could move the legislation ahead of Senate action.

“The question is, is it one bill, two bills,” Ryan told reporters March 30 when asked about the status of the legislation. “I think that’s one for the Senate to decide how they’re going to package the bill. It’s really about kind of their calendar and how they work.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appeared to rule out a scenario in which the House might start moving an omnibus the week of April 3 in advance of lawmakers’ two-week spring break. As a result, it appears increasingly likely that neither chamber will bring the measure up until the week of April 24—or only days before the current government funding bill expires.

“I do not currently anticipate floor action next week,” McCarthy told Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), when asked if an omnibus or a new continuing resolution (CR) could come up before the break.

Lawmakers are under pressure to get an omnibus wrapped up and on the president’s desk before midnight April 28, when the CR now funding the government expires. Without action by that date, federal monies will lapse.

Hoyer said Democrats are working with Republicans on the details of the 10 bills that will be attached to the Department of Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 1301) and are likely to support the final package, as long as it doesn’t contain “poison pill” riders or target their priorities. Democrats aren’t rooting for a government shutdown as the Trump administration nears its 100th day in office, he said.

“Nobody on my side is talking about shutting down the government,” Hoyer told McCarthy. As in previous years, “we’ll be prepared to provide votes to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Eight Work Days Remain

Earlier, senators said they were planning to take up the House-passed DOD bill and tack on the other unfinished spending bills before sending it back to the House. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a key member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers also were discussing a plan to leave the supplemental request for extra defense and border security money out of the package in order to expedite passage of the omnibus.

Other lawmakers subsequently said the House still might move a package first and include supplemental funds.

“We’ve already sent them DOD, and I anticipate we’ll send them the rest,” Ryan said.

Regardless of the final strategy, no moves on the omnibus are expected until after the two-week break. Hoyer said that doesn’t give lawmakers much time to meet the deadline. McCarthy declined to say whether Republicans will consider passing another short CR to buy them more time to work out unresolved issues on the bills.

Minus the spring recess, lawmakers now have only eight work days to finalize the package and get it through the two chambers, Hoyer said.

“We’re going to require relatively quick action to avoid a shutdown,” Hoyer said.

Strategy on the legislation remains “fluid,” Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said after a closed-door meeting of Republicans.

“It’s going to move as soon as it comes together, but right now we’re not there,” he said.

Boozman said there is more talk about including the supplemental, which Trump proposed to increase defense and provide the first slug of funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among other things, Boozman acknowledged that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is concerned that a supplemental may be difficult to pass on its own. McCain also has said the $30 billion extra Trump wants for the Pentagon is insufficient.

“Nobody’s sure exactly how it’s going to work out,” Boozman said.

Border Funds Key Issue

A key issue yet to be resolved is funding for border security, Boozman said. Democrats oppose providing money for the wall, “but there’s actually a lot of support on their side for securing the border,” he said. “It’s how you do it.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also said border money is the subject of negotiations.

“The issue is spending billions and billions of dollars on a 2,000-mile wall or something like that,” Pelosi told reporters. “It’s immoral, indecent, and ineffective. It’s so ridiculous. But beyond that, we have to see the substance of what is in the bill. But it’s always been a negotiation, and they’ve never been able to pass one without Democratic votes.”

Ultimately, Trump may have to sit down with the leadership on both sides to decide what will be in the bill, Boozman said.

“You’ve got to get something he’ll sign,” Boozman said. “You don’t want to go through all this and have him veto it.”

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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