New York Times
By Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman
December 9, 2014
Congressional leaders reached a deal Tuesday on a more than $1 trillion spending package that would fund most of the federal government through the current fiscal year.
But because negotiations on the package dragged over policy details, House lawmakers also prepared to move on a short-term spending measure that would avert a government shutdown if Congress cannot pass the larger bill by Thursday, when the current funding expires.
Even with nettlesome last-minute issues, leaders in both parties expressed confidence that they would be able to keep the government running. Lawmakers battled behind the scenes over dozens of additional policy provisions ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction over some bodies of water to the District of Columbia’s marijuana laws to matters of campaign finance.
The big spending package, which congressional leaders had hoped to have ready on Monday, did not come until Tuesday evening. The final legislation would largely keep domestic funding at current levels, while providing more money to fight various crises abroad.
The House is expected to vote on the package on Thursday before sending it to the Senate. The short-term measure would provide the Senate cover and avoid a government shutdown if the Senate is unable to also pass the bill that day.
The spending bill would fund nearly all of the federal government through September 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security, which it would fund only through February, in retaliation for President Obama’s unilateral action to defer the deportation of as many as five million undocumented immigrants. Congressional Republicans plan to take up funding for the agency — which has primary responsibility for carrying out the president’s immigration directive — early next year, when they will control both chambers of Congress and believe they will have more leverage.
The rush Tuesday to post the legislation underscored the 113th Congress’s dubious record as one of the least productive in modern history — governing by deadlines and cliffs of its own making, and struggling to pass even some of the most pro forma pieces of legislation.
“There is something about legislative institutions that don’t function until there is a hard deadline, and usually around here that hard deadline is Christmas Day,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership. “Things don’t get done until there’s a crisis, and that crisis is upon us.”
Mr. Thune added that while he did not expect a government shutdown, Congress had again let a deadline slip: “Does it get done by Thursday night?” he asked, referring to the original target for passage. “It’s looking increasingly bleak for that to happen, but I think it gets done.”
The spending bill is geared toward combating threats from afar, with roughly $5.4 billion in emergency funds to fight Ebola in West Africa, nearly $74 billion for wars and other overseas operations, and more than half of the overall package going to military spending.
The final deal amounted to what one Democratic aide called a “split decision” likely to leave both sides unhappy. For instance, the bill would nullify the District of Columbia’s referendum to legalize marijuana, but it would allow Washington to decriminalize the drug, meaning possession of small amounts would no longer be punished. Environmental regulations on some waterways were nullified for the Army Corps of Engineers, but the Environmental Protection Agency would not be limited in its ability to regulate new bodies of water under the Clean Water Act.
Democrats fought off Republican efforts to scuttle Michelle Obama’s rules on nutritional content of school lunches, but Republicans secured flexibility on the use of whole grains.
Another provision would allow more leeway for banks and other financial services companies under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulatory law of 2010. But Democrats gained some concessions.
Negotiators also decided to remove a separate bill to extend the federal insurance offered in the event of an act of terrorism, a bill first passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Instead, House Republicans plan to vote on a compromise version struck by Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. That deal would raise the threshold of terrorism damage after which federal aid kicks in to $200 million from $100 million.
However, Republicans hope to attach a provision that would make farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses that use financial instruments to hedge risk exempt from regulations under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulatory law. Senate Democrats and the Obama administration oppose that move — a standoff that could mean the federal terrorism risk insurance that has aided the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan and construction in other areas prone to terrorism threats could expire at the end of the year.
“To the extent we keep the policy issues out, the easier it is to secure the votes,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania.
Nonetheless, Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to need Democratic votes to help pass the bill, as some conservative members have balked, saying it does not go far enough in fighting the president’s immigration action.
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