Politics

On Omnibus, Congressional Leaders Are All Feeling Good

Ryan, Schumer and Pelosi all say they feel negotiations are in a good place

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speak to reporters following a meeting of House and Senate leaders in Speaker Ryan’s office on the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional leaders emerged just before 11 a.m. Wednesday from a meeting to negotiate outstanding issues on a fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill predicting a deal was forthcoming in a matter of hours. 

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, in rare hallway comments to reporters, said leaders were still finalizing the remaining details of the omnibus but hoped to post it soon. 

 

“We feel like we’re in a good place,” the Wisconsin Republican said upon exiting his office, where the meeting was held.

A few minutes earlier Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered similar sentiments to reporters as they left the meeting but declined to provide details of any breakthroughs reached. 

“We hope that everything will be done,” Schumer said. There’s some language that has to be gone over in a few areas, but we hope we’ll be ready to go in a few hours.”

The New York Democrat added that the minority leaders were “feeling very good” about the emerging deal.

“We’ve accomplished many, many, many of our goals,” he said. “When it’s unveiled, you will see.”

Pelosi agreed, citing “good progress” that was made in the leadership meeting. 

The California Democrat commended House and Senate staff of both parties “for dealing expeditiously with some of the differences, resolving some and putting some aside for another day.”

“I think that we’re going to present to our members something that they can comfortably support,” Pelosi said. 

Time issues

Congress needs to act quickly. Government funding is set to expire Friday at midnight. 

From the 2017 Archives: How the Appropriations Process Is Supposed to Work

Despite the quick turnaround time, Schumer said he doesn’t think a short-term continuing resolution would be needed. 

Pelosi said the House could vote as soon as Thursday but said that decision is up to Ryan. The speaker deferred to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who controls the House floor schedule. 

House Republicans have a rule they mostly adhere to about posting a bill at least three days before a floor vote. Based on how they count days, a Wednesday posting would allow for a vote no sooner than Friday. 

But Republicans may decide to forgo the three-day rule to get the omnibus over to the Senate, given their sometimes lengthy procedures for moving legislation. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who caused a brief shutdown earlier this year because he would not agree to speed up Senate debate on a stopgap spending bill has not yet ruled out using the same procedural delay tactics. 

Speeding up the House vote would also benefit Democrats, many of whom were hoping to travel to Rochester, N.Y., to attend the late Rep. Louise Slaughter’s funeral Friday. 

Outstanding issues

Heading into the meeting some of the outstanding issues leaders had yet to resolve were whether to include a measure to strengthen existing reporting requirements to the the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and a provision addressing the so-called “grain glitch” in the tax overhaul law that unintentionally allows farmers who sell grain to cooperatives to get a tax advantage. 

Democrats, who had already provided some give on immigration to Republicans in agreeing to border security funds that would allow construction of a fence along the southern border, among other  technology-related security enhancements, were also hoping for some kind of commitment on action to protect young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation. 

“For a lot of us ... we need some kind of commitment on immigration, to do something meaningful,” Rep. Dan Kildee said.

The Michigan Democrat said what Republicans had been offering to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program is “pretty insulting” and said many caucus members may have trouble voting for the omnibus without a stronger commitment.

“It’s pretty difficult to keep hearing, ‘We’re going to take this up, we’re going to take this up,’ and we never do,” Kildee said.  

Democrats were also seeking a concession from Republicans pushing for inclusion of Fix NICS, the background checks reporting measure, which they support but feel falls significantly short of what is needed to curb gun violence. 

What was agreed to was language in accompanying report to the omnibus clarifying that the so-called Dickey amendment is not meant to block federal research on gun violence, aides said.

The Dickey amendment, which has been in appropriations measures for years, is meant to prevent the government from spending money to promote gun control but has been interpreted by some as an effective ban on any gun violence research. Democrats have long fought to remove it, but the deal struck does not do that. 

On gun violence the parties also agreed to provide funding for grants to schools to implement safety training and protocols, as outlined in the STOP School Violence Act the House passed last week. 

Democrats also had an issue with the language Republicans have come up with to address the grain glitch. Pelosi believes it doesn’t do anything to help smaller farms and specialty cooperatives, her spokesman Drew Hammill said. 

A a senior GOP aide said the omnibus would include a fix for the grain glitch but it was not immediately clear if the language would satisfy Pelosi’s concerns. 

Senate Democrats had also been pushing for an expansion of the low-income housing tax credit in exchange for agreeing to fix the grain glitch, a trade off House Democrats support. It was not immediately clear if they secured that.

Jennifer Shutt and Paul Krawzak contributed to this report. 

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