Congress Approves Short-Term Spending and Clears Way for More Talks

12 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Congress Approves Short-Term Spending and Clears Way for More Talks.

WASHINGTON — With negotiators certain to blow a midnight deadline for a $1.1 trillion spending bill for 2016, Congress on Friday approved a stopgap measure to forestall a government shutdown and provide an additional five days to reach a deal.WASHINGTON (AP) — Avoiding the high drama of recent year-end budget fights, President Barack Obama signed legislation Friday keeping government agencies open into next week, giving White House and congressional bargainers more time to complete sweeping deals on taxes and federal spending.

Members of the House of Representatives leave Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday after a voice vote to approve a short-term spending bill to keep the government open and avoid a crisis when the current budget expires at midnight. While congressional leaders and the White House have continued to voice guarded optimism, negotiations over the omnibus spending plan have been mired in disputes over an array of politically charged policy issues.

Talks were likely to stretch at least into the weekend over the environment, Syrian refugees, guns and dozens of other disputes sprinkled across two major bills. One would provide $1.1 trillion to finance government for 2016; the other would renew around 50 expiring tax cuts for businesses and individuals that, with additions, could swell to a 10-year price tag of $700 billion or more.

Dozens of issues remain unresolved, most of them policy disputes over environmental and other issues that lawmakers of both parties are trying to attach to the must-pass spending legislation. Republicans are seeking to use policy prescriptions, known as riders, to block a number of Obama administration rules, including on environmental and labor policy. The Democrats aren’t going to get everything they want in negotiations,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters Thursday. “But I believe that we will successfully complete these negotiations.” Under current law, government funding would have expired early Saturday. Many of those provisions are typically renewed every year or every other year, but Republicans have now put forward a package of more than $700 billion that would make many of the provisions permanent — a move that the House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, said Friday her caucus would strongly oppose.

Earlier in the week, Ryan assured lawmakers from Northeastern states that legislation extending health benefits and a compensation fund for 9/11 first responders would be made part of the spending bill. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said of Ryan’s recent ascension to the top House job. “And I think Paul’s articulated very well where we want to go.” Republicans wanted to insert language into the bills ending the four-decade ban on U.S. oil exports and curbing Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., a response to last month’s deadly attacks in Paris. They also wanted to roll back legal curbs on the financial industry, prevent Obama from easing ties with Cuba, and block his efforts to fight air and water pollution.

The spending legislation, which funds the government through the 2016 budget year, has become increasingly intertwined with the tax bill, which could deliver a political victory for both sides. Yet though Republicans dominate Congress, the aversion of many GOP lawmakers to spending bills meant Democratic votes would be needed to pass that $1.1 trillion package. Uncertainty remained as to whether lawmakers would pull off a major tax bill with permanent extensions benefiting both sides, or simply opt for a two-year extension of existing tax breaks. Pelosi was also seeking more money for renewable energy and an end to curbs on federal research into gun violence, an issue given life by last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Pelosi said. “The president has the signature so that gives him leverage in the discussion, but I made it clear: Don’t count on our votes for that.” Ms. Pelosi complained that Republicans were refusing, for example, to create an inflation index for the child tax credit to help low-income families, a policy priority of hers for many years, but at the same time, Republicans were eager to allow new oil exports to aid business interests. “We do not want to give our imprimatur to it, we will not be accomplices,” Ms. For their part, Democrats were seeking permanence for Obama-passed increases in tax credits for low-earning households, families with children and college students. They’ll have enough Republican votes supporting their special interest friends to pass this thing in a second.” Whether Republicans have the votes remains to be seen.

On the House floor on Friday, Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that all sides were trying their best. “There are representatives involved in these negotiations both Democratic and Republican and from the administration,” Mr. At a news conference, the Republicans said Feinstein abandoned a deal in which GOP lawmakers had conceded to Democratic demands, including protection of endangered species. They also note that rigorous scientific research on universal background checks is sparse, in part because federal financing for it is practically nonexistent. The prohibition on federally financed research, enacted in 1996, was intended to block what critics viewed as politically motivated anti-gun research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but even the ban’s initial sponsor, former Representative Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, has said it should be repealed.

The need for a short-term stopgap was also a reminder that the negotiations could still go off the rails, forcing government programs to operate at last year’s spending levels for an extended period — potentially an administrative nightmare for many federal agencies and offices.

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