WASHINGTON -- After weeks of closed-door meetings and late-night negotiations, Republicans and Democrats finally reached an agreement Tuesday night on a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the government until October 2016. Lawmakers also agreed on a robust package of so-called tax extenders, which would make expired tax provisions permanent.
After missing yet another deadline last week, which forced the House and Senate to pass a five-day measure to keep the government open, party leaders agreed to wide-ranging policy provisions in the omnibus spending bill, from lifting a 40-year-old oil export ban to permanent renewal of a health program for first responders in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The oil provision, a key Republican priority, will allow companies to freely export crude oil overseas. In exchange, Democrats secured a five-year extension of production and investment tax credits for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, three-year reauthorization of the Land Water Conservation Fund, and a concession from Republicans to exclude all major anti-environmental measures from the bill.
The sweeping omnibus bill, which is expected to pass with the help of House Democrats, permanently reauthorized an $8 billion health care program for 9/11 first responders. After weeks of intense congressional battle, culminating in a fierce lobbying effort by comedian Jon Stewart, lawmakers included language for the program, which had lapsed in September.
As of Wednesday morning, Democrats were still sifting through the bills to make sure the language honors the negotiations. Republicans didn't post the details of the tax package until minutes before midnight on Tuesday, and released the omnibus language after 1 a.m. Wednesday -- causing a stir among members who expect Republican leadership to follow the so-called three-day rule, which gives lawmakers at least a portion of three legislative days to read a bill before it is voted on. If followed, final votes in the House would be pushed into Friday, giving the Senate very little time to wrap things up before the weekend.
Democrats are expected to help Republican leadership carry the burden of passing the omnibus while Republicans will push through the extenders bill, which contains more GOP priorities. But the omnibus, which even before negotiations began was promoted as the more bipartisan product, fell under scrutiny just hours after its release.
"A number of concerns have arisen," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of the omnibus on Wednesday. Pelosi's skepticism of the omnibus could complicate matters when the bill reaches the floor.
Another key addition in the omnibus is aimed at restricting the visa waiver program. In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, and the attack in San Bernardino, California, inspired by the self-described Islamic State, lawmakers and the Obama administration agreed that attention should be paid to visa waivers, which allow citizens and nationals of certain countries to enter the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days. The omnibus includes a House-passed bill that would stop certain people from taking advantage of the visa waivers -- dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, and people who have visited those countries since 2011.
Negotiators also included the text of a broad cybersecurity bill, which proponents say will allow the government and private sector to share information. But the bill is not without controversy. Critics contend that the legislation violates the privacy of individuals because it encourages the private sector to share more data on hackers with the government.
The omnibus deal was reached as lawmakers also compromised on the package of tax extenders, which came in at $600 billion. In addition to renewable tax credits, the bill includes a two-year delay in the introduction of the “Cadillac tax” -- a contentious fee on expensive health care plans that was a major piece of the president’s Affordable Care Act, but is widely opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. It also contains a measure delaying a tax on medical devices created by the health care law for two years.
While lawmakers will have a short amount of time to find out what’s in the bills, which total over 2,200 pages, much of the debate will be over what wasn’t included. Republicans didn’t get controversial provisions that would have tightened screening for Syrian and Iraqi refugees coming to the United States, and Democrats were unable to lift a ban on federal gun violence research.
Republicans also didn’t get a number of abortion riders they were seeking, including a provision that would have allowed states to defund Planned Parenthood.
The compromises that prevented abortion riders and Syrian refugee provisions from getting into the final bill will almost certainly prevent conservatives from voting for the legislation. But their votes were always more than in doubt.
Later Wednesday the House and Senate will have to pass yet another temporary spending bill to avoid a shutdown. That continuing resolution will fund the government through Dec. 22.
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