Still no deal as congressional budget talks limp forward

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Congress Budget Talks Hobbled By Major Disagreements.

Congress is poised to pass a stopgap spending bill to avert a Friday shutdown and keep the government running five more days as a standoff intensifies over controversial add-ons included in the year-end budget deal.WASHINGTON — House Democrats used a special parliamentary procedure Thursday to force a vote on legislation that would bar people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun.

As Democrats resist dozens of GOP-led efforts to rollback women’s reproductive health services, halt environmental regulations to fight climate change and undo financial services reforms approved after the Great Recession, they were backed by top White House officials in private meetings this week. At issue are a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill and a sprawling renewal of tax breaks for businesses and individuals that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. Congress is nowhere near reaching a deal on government funding, a senior lawmaker said on Thursday, as Republicans who control both chambers struggled to meet conservative demands and show they can avoid agency shutdowns. The Senate approved the stopgap measure Thursday, and the House is expected to pass it Friday, when funding officially runs out, buying a few more days for talks.

—OVERALL SPENDING: Guided by a bipartisan deal struck in October, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans have settled most of their differences over 2016 spending by government agencies. Despite blowing their deadline, lawmakers seemed largely unperturbed as congressional leaders wrestled over which policy measures would be attached to the $1.15 trillion spending bill for fiscal year 2016 and how to tackle a slew of lapsed and expiring tax breaks.

The White House has signaled that it will sign the measure as long as it pushes the deadline back by only a few days to give lawmakers more time. “We don’t want to rush legislation, especially big legislation like this omnibus appropriations,” Ryan said at a Thursday news briefing. “We’re trading offers. With Republicans dominating bill details, the departments of Veterans Affairs, Justice and Defense will get the healthiest increases, while Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency won’t do as well. Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee that writes spending bills, said negotiations were inching forward but “We’re not close to a TD,” using the abbreviation for the American football term “touchdown.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said the sides were “trading offers, we’re talking to each other.” But he refused to guarantee that a deal will be reached by Wednesday. We’re doing all of the things that you would do, the appropriators and the leaders, so that we can get to an agreement.” Congress reached a budget accord in the fall, which set government spending levels through the remainder of the fiscal year and gave lawmakers until Friday to develop the funding bill. But approving the details of the $1.1-trillion spending plan have fallen into a familiar pattern of brinkmanship as both parties use the must-pass measure to tack on policy priorities.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking at an event marking the third anniversary of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, said Democrats insist the spending bill contain language ending a ban on funding for gun violence research. Complicating efforts is a separate battle to extend — or possibly make permanent — dozens of specialty tax breaks that are routinely approved at the end of each year.

Ryan, the negotiations are a chance to demonstrate how his leadership diverges from former Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), whose compromises with Democrats on must-pass bills angered the most conservative House Republicans. The tax breaks cover a long list of constituent-pleasing write-offs — for teachers to deduct classroom expenses or NASCAR owners to develop race tracks — and touch industries across the nation, including film production. —NOT HAPPENING: Facing an Obama veto threat, Republicans will not include language unraveling the president’s 2010 health care overhaul or halting federal payments to Planned Parenthood. Other disputes include: —ENVIRONMENT: Republicans want to block new Obama administration emissions standards for power plants, thwart a rewrite of clean water rules, prevent curbs on “fracking” on federal lands and limit new regulations on ozone.

All week, Democrats have been making pesky motions to adjourn on the House floor in protest of the GOP leadership’s refusal to give the King bill a vote following recent mass shootings. His predecessor John Boehner quit after five years of infighting with conservative Republicans who wanted more deficit-reduction than Boehner was able to accomplish. But Congress is also considering doing away with two Obamacare taxes, including the 40% tax on high-end healthcare plans that Democrats want to undo and another on medical-device manufacturers that Republicans have led efforts to repeal. —CUBA: A senior Cuban-American lawmaker wants to block Obama from loosening travel restrictions to Cuba, part of administration efforts to improve ties with the island nation.

But the privileged resolution is their most serious effort to get a vote yet, borrowing on a tactic Democrats used over the summer to force Republicans to vote on a resolution removing all images of the Confederate flag from the House side of the Capitol. In an attempt to give these hard-liners more say, House Republicans on Thursday chose one of them, Representative Tim Huelskamp, for an internal committee that influences legislation and appointments to key House positions.

Among other demands, Republicans are pushing to lift a 40-year-old ban on oil exports, roll back some of the Obama administration’s environmental and financial regulations, and halt the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq while the administration overhauls the refugee-vetting process. Making those and the other tax breaks permanent would be a sweeping compromise, a nearly $700-billion undertaking that appears increasingly difficult as negotiations drag before the holiday recess. —CAMPAIGN SPENDING: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seems likely to win a change in campaign finance law to lift spending limits by party committees of behalf of candidates for federal office.

It was a dramatic turnaround for Huelskamp, one of several right-wingers stripped of committee assignments under Boehner for bucking leadership initiatives. (Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; editing by Andrew Hay and Chizu Nomiyama) The new speaker’s willingness to hold out beyond the Dec. 11 deadline has already persuaded some House Republicans he is holding a firmer line than his predecessor. “The speaker tried to send a signal earlier that Republicans are not just going to roll over here and play dead,” said Sen.

—FOOD: Efforts include repealing a law requiring that meat be labeled with its country of origin, renewing nutrition standards for school lunches and blocking mandatory labels for genetically modified foods. Pelosi and Senate Democrats have swapped multiple offers with their GOP counterparts, but had little progress to report from the week’s negotiations. One area of common ground may be inclusion of a House-passed measure to restrict visa-free travel from European countries and some U.S. allies in Asia.

The bill, brought in response to recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, was approved overwhelmingly in the House and has support in the Senate. Talks also seem to be coalescing around a plan to end the decades-old ban against U.S. oil exports, a GOP priority that Democrats may accept if their other goals are also met. For most lawmakers, much of the next week will be spent waiting for their leaders to complete the hard-fought deals. “This is going to be decided by three or four people,” Mr. Negotiations are expected to continue through the weekend, but a Democratic aide said Thursday they remained far apart with dozens of outstanding issues to be resolved. Republicans and some Democrats also want to permanently allow people in states without income taxes to deduct local sales taxes on their federal tax returns.

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