WASHINGTON -- Minutes after throwing her support behind a sweeping year-end bill to fund the government, which Congress needs to pass before it leaves for the holidays, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi cast doubt on whether it would have the votes to pass.
The California Democrat sent a shiver through the Capitol when she gave a resounding "No" when asked if she's confident she has the votes within her Democratic caucus to help push the omnibus spending bill over the finish line.
Republican leadership knew they weren't going to be able to count on House Democrats to help pass a more than $600 billion tax extenders package, which became a key piece in weeks-long negotiations between the two parties over the omnibus. Instead, the understanding among Republican and Democrats in the House was that Pelosi and her caucus would help carry the spending bill -- a more bipartisan product than the extenders package.
"We are talking it through," Pelosi said of conversations with her caucus over the omnibus. "Members are reviewing it. There are people who have very serious concerns."
The problem, Pelosi said on Thursday -- just one day before the House is set to vote on the must-pass legislation -- is "then along came Big Oil."
The omnibus may include a number of provisions favorable to Democrats, like a five-year phase out of wind and solar production and investment tax credits, and a three-year reauthorization of the Land Water Conservation Fund, but they were secured by giving Republicans a victory on crude oil exports. Republicans also conceded all riders they wanted to attach that would have blocked the president's signature climate change regulations aimed at curbing emissions from power plants.
For the first time in 40 years, companies will be able to export crude oil if the omnibus passes, due to a Republican provision that lifts the ban first established in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo.
"Before the export of oil came along, we were on a path," Pelosi said. "That ingredient was very harmful, that assault on the discussions, but on the other hand it enabled us to get many more things."
It comes down to whether Pelosi's members think that what Democrats received in exchange for lifting the oil ban in the omnibus is worth it.
Coming out of a meeting on Wednesday, Progressive House Caucus Democrats started to mull the idea of voting against the omnibus solely because of the crude oil exports provision, a Democratic aide told The Huffington Post.
Pelosi, too, had to come to terms with the crude oil exports addition to the bill. "The timing of it is so incredible. Right when the rest of the world is saying, 'We are going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we are going to reduce emissions,' we are taking an action that is going to increase emissions," she said.
Calling the oil measure her "big torment," Pelosi argued Republicans should have to put up more votes on the omnibus than Democrats.
While Pelosi raised doubts, and doesn't appear to be outright lobbying her members to vote for the bill, she said she is showing Democrats "the good work that was done in a bipartisan way" to reach a deal with Republicans on the omnibus.
"We had a bipartisan victory on the budget bill," she said. "I feel that what we did in the bill more than 10 times offsets the damage that exporting crude oil does."
Still, Pelosi, known as a formidable whipper in the House, pushed responsibility off of Democrats.
"It's up to them to have the votes. They have the majority," Pelosi said. "This is deadly serious, this is deadly serious, and they knew full well when they injected oil into the debate that this was a disrupter of serious magnitude."
Democrats are also upset about the absence of a rider to grant Chapter 9 powers to Puerto Rico to deal with its ongoing fiscal crisis. In response, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he is instructing the relevant committees to work with the Puerto Rican government to come up with a solution by next spring.
Despite the tough talk, Pelosi reiterated her support of the bill to reporters. And a number of key Democrats, including liberal Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), voiced support for the spending bill on the House floor Thursday.
The House will vote on the omnibus spending deal Friday morning, and if passed it will then be sent to the Senate for final passage before reaching the president. Both the tax extenders package and omnibus are poised to pass the Senate easily.
UPDATE: 4:50 p.m. -- After Pelosi made her comments, the White House began reaching out to House Democrats to shore up support for the omnibus.
"The White House is all over the place whipping," a congressional aide told The Huffington Post.
Republican leaders should be able to muster close to 120 of their members to vote for the spending bill, but it will be difficult for them to get more than that given conservative opposition to the bill. Democrats would need to provide around 100 votes to get the bill through the chamber.
A senior Republican aide said the leadership team is doing the work it needs to ensure they "have a strong vote" on Friday.
UPDATE: 7:55 p.m. -- Pelosi sent a dear colleague letter to her caucus Thursday night, urging them to support the spending bill.
"The Omnibus will eliminate around ten times more carbon pollution than the exports of oil will add," Pelosi said in the letter.
An hour after the note was sent to members, a Pelosi spokesman said the vote count was looking "much better" after the letter, which "spurred positive reaction."
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