Congressional leaders and top White House officials are clearing the way for a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill, scrapping several last-minute attempts to tack on controversial policy riders ahead of a Friday deadline to fund the government.
Trump administration and Hill GOP sources say the new spending package is unlikely to include legislation shoring up Obamacare’s insurance markets. One White House official called it a “heavy lift” — even as President Donald Trump made a last-minute push Monday to include the provision in the legislation.
The president also asked GOP leaders over the weekend to include a short-term patch shielding Dreamers from deportation for 2.5 years in return for $25 billion in wall funding. But Democrats — whose votes are needed for passage — balked at the idea, and Republicans appear ready to drop it.
Roughly $900 million in transportation funding for a massive New York-New Jersey infrastructure project is also expected to get sidelined because of Trump’s veto threat on the so-called Gateway Project. Gone too are conservative demands to defund Planned Parenthood or cut off money to sanctuary cities that protect undocumented immigrants.
Congressional negotiators are rejecting pleas from both parties to load up the must-pass bill with other long-simmering policy items as they attempt to avert a third shutdown in three months. Lawmakers have just four days until funding runs dry.
Speaker Paul Ryan will outline the new spending bill in a rare House GOP conference meeting Monday evening, just before the bill’s release. Aides cautioned that nothing is finalized until the legislation goes public.
The House will need to pass the funding bill by midweek to avoid a potential disaster in the Senate, where one senator can single-handedly provoke a shutdown if Congress veers too close to the deadline. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proved that when his opposition closed the federal government for a few hours last month.
Negotiators spent much of Monday still haggling back and forth, with some aides cautioning that release of the bill text could be delayed into Tuesday.
The Senate and House, for example, still appeared at odds over whether to include House-passed legislation overhauling the Hill’s much-maligned sexual harassment policies. Some in the Senate took issue with the House bill, and negotiators appeared poised to ax the entire thing.
The fight over an Obamacare stabilization package also spilled over from the weekend, with Republicans still trading offers Monday afternoon.
“A group of GOP senators and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday in a last-minute push to include the Obamacare subsidies, but were not optimistic.
“I’m trying to make sure we get stabilization payments because if we don’t, the insurance premiums are going to go up dramatically. And our Democratic friends are not being helpful,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said as he left McConnell’s office.
Trump has privately assured one of the bill’s chief authors, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), for weeks that he supports steadying Obamacare markets this fall. Without action, insurers warn that huge premium hikes would hit consumers just weeks before the 2018 elections.
Alexander said that the House can add the insurance language on Monday night or the Senate could add it later this week with an amendment. But he was insistent the proposal’s supporters get a vote.
“My only goal is I want senators and congressman to have a chance to vote on it,” Alexander said. “This is going to be announced on Oct. 1, one month before the election. I want them to be accountable for a vote on an opportunity we all have to lose rates by 40 percent for people who are suffering.”
GOP leaders, however, have demanded new restrictions on abortions in Obamacare plans in exchange for propping up a law that they have long detested.
Republicans — led by Ryan — insist that the Obamacare money must prohibit federal funding of abortion, similar to the so-called Hyde amendment that is attached to most spending bills.
Democrats — led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — say they won’t allow it because doing so would prevent Obamacare payments from touching any insurance plan that covers abortion. That would pose a huge new hurdle in abortion access for mostly low-income women, they say. These are firm lines in the sand, according to their camps.
Democrats say the latest proposal is more harsh than Hyde because it would impose a permanent ban on the funding, instead of the annual renewal, which has been re-upped every year since the mid-1970s. They say it could also allow the administration to broadly limit Obamacare insurance plans that cover abortion.
After weeks of back-and-forth, Democrats say GOP leaders were still pushing for that Hyde language as recently as Monday afternoon.
“The latest thing that they’re offering on this still has expanded Hyde. That is not going to fly. It also prohibits states from regulating short-term plans. Those two things are both complete nonstarters,” a senior Democratic aide said.
Pelosi has publicly voiced skepticism that any Obamacare compromise will make it into the spending bill.
“One of the regrets we have about the negotiation is that we thought there’d be a chance to have a health piece, like 'reinsurance,’” Pelosi said Thursday, citing disputes over the abortion language.
Immigration has been another flashpoint in the spending talks. The White House pitched an offer directly to Democrats this weekend that would have granted two-years of legal protections for the 1.8 million undocumented immigrants eligible under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in exchange for $25 billion to build the wall.
But Democrats refused, insisting on a pathway to citizenship for the 1.8 million people who remain in limbo after Trump rescinded DACA.
White House officials are now eying $1.6 billion for a boost in border security, which would likely help staff up border and immigration agencies and fund more detention beds.
Trump may get his way on one item in the spending bill: blocking funding for the Gateway project.
Trump has threatened to veto the entire $1.3 trillion spending bill over $900 million that would be set aside for a long-planned railway under the Hudson River.
The move has infuriated New York and New Jersey lawmakers from both parties, from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). But Trump has refused to budge on the issue, despite personal lobbying from King during the president’s visit to Capitol Hill during a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon on Friday.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), has also pushed to include a bill to improve the FBI’s background check system in the wake of last month’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school.
Some House conservatives have said they’ll refuse to back the bill without also expanding the right to concealed carry. But Cornyn told reporters Monday he “can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be” included in the omnibus bill.
In the House, conservative Republicans are expected to oppose the bill in droves, balking at the $143 billion in new spending for both the Pentagon and domestic programs.
Several members in the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee have demanded more conservative policy provisions, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and expanding the Hyde amendment.
The lack of abortion restrictions in the omnibus is already causing a rift in the House GOP. In a Monday morning meeting, several staffers on the conservative Republican Study Committee pressed the GOP leadership aides in attendance on the lack of “pro-life” language in the spending bill.
Specifically, they called for defunding Planned Parenthood and extending the Hyde amendment – something that the GOP leadership aides did not commit to, according to one GOP aide in the room.
“Rs control the House and Senate and White House. This still should reflect that,” the aide said. “There isn’t even a bone here.”
But Democratic votes are likely to be needed on any bill to fund the government through September, giving conservatives less leverage.
The omnibus is likely among the last major pieces of legislation to clear Congress before the midterm elections, and lawmakers have spent weeks lobbying leadership on a slew of personal priorities, ranging from expanding the powers of the Export-Import Bank to fixing the “grain glitch” in the GOP tax law.
“Anybody who sees a train leaving the station wants to hitch a ride,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “There’s a list this long.”
Jennifer Haberkorn and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.