Lawmakers hope to wrap up omnibus, tax bills today

Source: Manuel Quiñones and Hannah Hess, E&E reporters • Posted: Friday, December 18, 2015

Congress could wrap up work for the year as soon as today if House leaders cobble together enough votes to approve a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending bill.

As House lawmakers voted yesterday on tax legislation, leaders and rank-and-file members expressed concerns about being able to pass the omnibus.

Liberals were seething about lifting the oil export ban. Conservatives were upset about the lack of controversial policy riders and other concessions to Democrats.

Members of the Congressional Western Caucus joined a group of pro-coal lawmakers in expressing deep reservations about the bill. They were upset that negotiators gave up on blocking Obama administration initiatives like U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan or the Interior Department’s stream protection rule.

At one point, the Ohio Coal Association released a statement expressing opposition to the deal.

“We urge Ohio delegation members to vote against the Obama Administration’s ideological warfare,” said Christian Palich, the group’s president.

But the whipping in support of the spending package continued. During floor debate yesterday, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over EPA and Interior, stressed language in the omnibus bill’s report requiring the administration to work with states on the stream rule.

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), a foe of the rule for years, wanted clarification, saying it was his understanding that administration officials “will be directed to re-engage with those states of primacy at the states’ request” and that the rule’s comment period “would have to be reopened” for states.

“That’s my understanding,” Calvert responded.

The exchange was enough for the Ohio Coal Association to release a new statement about the omnibus: “Although not perfect, this clarification instills confidence that this rule, meant to destroy coal country, will not be implemented and is worthy of the Ohio delegation’s support.”

Skeptical Republican members also met with Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) yesterday afternoon. The discussion was enough to get at least some lawmakers to move from the “no” to the “yes” column, said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“It was an extremely valuable discussion. Members spoke at length about issues of concern to them that both are and are not in the bill. The speaker then spoke about the process they went through,” she said. “He made clear that Western issues were not traded for oil. That is a rumor that is out in our districts that is very debilitating to us in representing the West.”

Lummis said leaders promised to address their priorities. Passing the omnibus would mean the end to business as usual. “One person in the room called it halftime,” said Lummis, while another, she said, quipped about hitting the reset button.

Democrats

Ryan is keen on getting as many Republicans as possible to vote for the omnibus and avoiding relying too much on Democrats. Depending on the minority party, he feels, dilutes the majority’s power.

Still, Republican leaders know they will likely need a significant group of Democrats to vote for the omnibus to assure passage. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was not sure she could deliver, with members of her own caucus near revolt.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) yesterday acknowledged widespread discontent among both parties over the omnibus but said lawmakers should consider the alternative.

“You don’t have to look very far to find something that makes you cranky, but on balance, for both Democrats and Republicans, it’s as good as it’s going to get,” he told E&E Daily. “And if this comes unsprung, I think the resolution is not going to be good for governance and some things that I care about.”

Blumenauer predicted that most Democrats would vote for the omnibus, as he plans to. “I think there will be a majority of our caucus that will support it,” he said.

“And the alternative is going to be worse. And just not even having all the riders in there is tremendous. And the funding levels. Get a grip, people,” he said. “If we go back to continuing resolutions, it’s going to get ugly in a hurry.”

Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, top Democrat on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, opposed lifting oil export restrictions, worried that the United States could ill afford to ship domestic crude. Her tune changed with the inclusion of renewable energy funding (E&E Daily, Dec. 14).

“This bill is not perfect; it reflects a compromise,” Kaptur said.

New York Rep. Nita Lowey, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, called the omnibus a “mixed bag.” But she said, “Gone are dozens of attacks on women’s health, labor protections, consumer financial protection, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.”

While Senate passage is all but assured, members were concerned about chamber conservatives and presidential candidates delaying the process. But the fact that Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are on the campaign trail made it easier for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to set up today’s votes.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.