Senate poised to move on debt limit, spending deal

Source: Geof Koss, Daniel Bush and Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporters • Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2015

Following House passage of the two-year budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last night set the procedural wheels in motion for bringing the bill up in the upper chamber.

McConnell filed cloture on the bill (H.R. 1314), while also “filling the amendment tree” to prevent extraneous proposals from clogging up the bill.

While Senate passage before the Nov. 3 deadline for raising the debt limit appears assured, the timing of a final vote remains unclear, as at least one Republican senator has threatened to filibuster the deal.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose presidential campaign is faltering, pledged this week that he would do “everything I can to stop” the deal, which would raise the debt limit through March 2017 and set new spending caps for the next two years.

Absent an agreement to waive Senate rules, procedural votes on the bill could start tomorrow and continue over the weekend.

Despite conservative grumbling over the agreement, the House easily passed the bill by a 266-167 margin, with 187 Democrats joining 79 Republicans in support.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was concerned by the pledge to abide by the “Hastert rule” made by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — who is slated to be affirmed as speaker on the House floor this morning.

Named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the nonbinding rule means legislation should advance in the lower chamber with the support of a majority of the Republican caucus. However, outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly was forced to rely on Democrats to overcome entrenched opposition within his own caucus on certain must-pass bills.

“We would never be able to do many things we have accomplished here” if the Hastert rule were strictly enforced, Pelosi told reporters, calling the principle “very damaging to American working families.”

While the current GOP leadership all voted for the budget agreement — as did Ryan — 167 Republicans opposed the bill, including the several dozen members of the Freedom Caucus.

In a statement, the conservative bloc denounced the agreement as “a fiscal monstrosity” negotiated in private with President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who voted for the bill, predicted that as speaker, Ryan will need to go to Democrats to get votes for spending, just as Boehner did.

“It is a question, then, of how long this honeymoon is going to go on,” McDermott said of Ryan. “It’s going to be a tough road ahead. If this goes smoothly, I will be the most surprised guy in the building.”

But Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who voted against the bill, cautioned against assuming yesterday’s budget vote was a bad omen for appropriations under Ryan.

“We’ll still be able to move through that and come up with a piece of legislation under our new speaker that a big group of us can sign up for,” he said.

Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), who supported the budget deal, said that taking the threat of a default off the table may ease some of the pressure on the omnibus talks, although he cautioned that the underlying tensions within the GOP caucus remain.

“This makes Dec. 11 a lot easier for the country,” he said. “What happens within the Republican conference, we’ll see.”

Ahead of the vote, members of both parties took to the floor to praise the deal as an imperfect compromise but nonetheless a rare display of bipartisanship.

“This is a signal accomplishment for stability,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said.

Echoing a sentiment of defense hawks, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) lauded the deal for providing the military and intelligence agencies two years of “predictability,” which he said would ultimately lead to budget savings.

Others said they would reluctantly support the agreement.

“We are not advancing America,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a leader of the Progressive Caucus. “This is not a progress budget; it’s a survival budget.”

But conservatives criticized the agreement for failing to do enough to stem the growing deficit.

“The key to get out of a hole is to quit digging,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the former governor of South Carolina, who lamented the two-year suspension of the sequester caps. “As draconian as they are, they represent the only fiscal constraint in Washington, D.C.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) urged members to support the deal, which he called a “bipartisan first step” toward restoring the nation’s fiscal health.

Hoyer also warned lawmakers against waiting for two years to address the next round of automatic sequestration cuts.

“We should get to work right now on a big bipartisan deal to put our fiscal house back in order,” he said.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the deal would help restore regular order to the wayward appropriations process. “We lurch from one crisis to another, it seems,” he said in floor remarks.

While the White House yesterday reiterated its desire for an omnibus free of “ideological riders,” Rogers brushed aside the notion of a clean omnibus.

“There are a number of riders that deal with the EPA that will be discussed,” the outspoken critic of Obama’s environmental rules told reporters yesterday.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who earlier pledged that Democrats would stay united against environmental riders, emphasized the point again yesterday (E&E Daily, Oct. 28).

“We need to make sure this omnibus spending bill that we do is a good one,” he told reporters. “We don’t want these riders.”