Negotiations Over Spending Bill Stalled as Deadline Approaches

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) -

Congressional negotiations on a year-end spending deal remained at a standstill on Wednesday, as leaders prepared to move a stopgap funding bill that would allow talks to continue beyond the Friday deadline and into early next week.

Leaders in the House and Senate said they are making progress on a deal but there are still differences over several policy riders that GOP lawmakers want to attach to the must-pass legislation. The talks have been further complicated by negotiations on a package of tax breaks and Republican calls to lift a ban on oil exports.

Government spending is set to run out at the end of the week, but House leaders on Wednesday announced plans to vote Friday on a stopgap spending bill, or continuing resolution, that would give Congress until Dec. 16 to pass a fiscal 2016 omnibus appropriations package. Negotiators plan to work through the weekend, and a vote on any deal could occur as early as Monday.

“We’re making some progress, but it’s been slow,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky.

The spending talks have been going on for weeks as Democrats and Republicans continue to battle over GOP lawmakers’ push to add to the bill policy provisions that would, among other things, roll back some Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act regulations, make changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and end a 40-year old ban on crude-oil exports.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Maryland, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, told reporters that negotiators are sorting through 42 policy riders and that the process has been further slowed by negotiations over a package of business and individual tax breaks, known as extenders, that is “running in a parallel universe.”

Negotiations on the must-pass spending bill have become closely linked to the effort to extend around 50 tax breaks that Congress routinely reauthorizes for a year or two at a time as leaders seek to wrap up all year-end work at the same time. A proposed agreement would permanently extend several tax provisions – including the research and development credit, expensing rules for small businesses, the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the earned income tax credit (EITC) and college tax credits – while extending others for five years.

However, House Democrats have refused to accept any offers for a long-term tax package over concerns that the approximately $700 billion package would not provide enough for low-income families.

Republican leaders said the deal is in the hands of House Democrats.

“Nothing has been decided,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We are waiting on the House.”

On Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, to discuss both the tax and spending negotiations.

“We’ll continue our conversations with Republicans,” Pelosi said after the meeting. “We do think that there’s a path to getting this done, and we’re trying to smooth that path.”