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Lawmakers Wrapping Up Omnibus Deal, Plan to File Tuesday

December 15, 2020by Jennifer Shutt and Paul M. Krawzak, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
Looking from the U.S. Capitol toward the National Mall, Nov. 12, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — House and Senate lawmakers are close to agreement on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and are planning to file the legislative text on Tuesday, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

If that schedule holds, the House could be ready to vote on the bill as early as Wednesday, though the path of a snowstorm that weather forecasters are anticipating may affect that timing.

Negotiators have reached compromises on some of the thorniest issues including border wall spending, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention capacity and funding for veterans health care programs. A handful of smaller items sent to congressional leaders remain to be worked out, but a full agreement is close, according to these sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While appropriations subcommittees were going over their sections of the massive package, leadership, White House officials and other congressional committees were still ironing out how to handle coronavirus relief, surprise billing legislation and extensions of expiring tax breaks and health care programs. If agreements are reached in time on those items, they’re likely to be rolled into the massive year-end omnibus legislation.

On Friday night, President Donald Trump signed a one-week stopgap measure to buy extra time to wrap up unfinished business. This week’s package will likely be the last spending bill Trump signs before leaving office, making it his final chance to secure additional funding for the border wall and other legislative priorities.

One of the final outstanding issues was how to classify funding for “community care programs” that allow veterans to seek health care outside a VA facility in certain circumstances.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for months has objected to plans to exempt $12.5 billion from the spending caps for this fiscal year. That stance placed him opposite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and Democrats in both chambers. The White House’s position has been unclear but in the end appeared to side with McCarthy.

The final bargain, according to people familiar with the discussion, is set to drop the emergency designation for the $12.5 billion. Instead, appropriators are using a mix of budgetary offsets targeting mandatory programs with unused funds — known as “changes in mandatory programs” or CHIMPs — as well as cuts from unspent appropriations to finance the $12.5 billion for veterans health care.

The offsets — which a Democratic source said won’t actually result in meaningful spending cuts — will be used to lower the standard subcommittee allocations in several instances while raising the Military Construction-VA panel’s allocation to accommodate the higher VA health care budget.

The final disposition of immigrant detention bed capacity and border wall funding wasn’t immediately clear. But there was an expectation that the average daily population at ICE facilities would be cut under the tentative agreement in exchange for some wall construction funding. Senate Republicans proposed $2 billion for the wall in line with the Trump request; House Democrats proposed zero, and would go further by rescinding previously appropriated funds.

In addition, negotiators have spent weeks wading through hundreds of differences between the House and Senate spending bills including disputes about when and how federal grants should go to police departments. Protections for the greater sage grouse and language addressing the carbon neutrality of forest biomass were among the other disputes negotiators had to iron out during the final round of talks.

Progress on the omnibus bill was a welcome development for agencies that were starting to wonder whether they’d be operating under a stopgap funding bill though the early part of next year.

The Office of Management and Budget recently delivered a list of “anomalies” agencies would need in a continuing resolution running through March absent a full-year funding agreement.

Needed fixes include extra money to fill a gap in the federal court system’s defender services account beginning Jan. 10, 2021, that could result in a hiring freeze, suspension of payment to attorneys or both. Other funding needs shortchanged under a typical stopgap range from money to intercept animal and plant pests carrying diseases before they can enter the U.S. to debt relief for Sudan, OMB said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were expected to speak again on Monday about the emerging omnibus agreement as well as coronavirus relief after a 30-minute phone call on Sunday.

A bipartisan group negotiating a $908 billion package of virus aid provisions was planning to roll out text of two separate bills at 4 p.m. Monday, after deciding to break out the more contentious $160 billion state and local aid piece along with business liability protections.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the development on Monday morning, but said dropping the smaller piece was acceptable in order to get aid passed for U.S. businesses and households before Congress adjourns.

That’s in line with an offer McConnell made last week. But Pelosi told Mnuchin on Sunday that state and local aid remains a top priority and that any liability protections cannot “jeopardize workers’ safety.”

On the health care front, negotiators worked through the weekend on a bipartisan deal to clamp down on surprise out-of-network medical bills, estimated to generate $16 billion in savings to pay for extensions of funding for community health centers, teaching health centers and other programs expiring Dec. 18.

The tax-writing committees were making progress on an extender package, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

There was discussion among lobbyists who spoke on condition of anonymity that some provisions could receive multiyear extensions, such as excise tax cuts for craft brewers, vintners and distillers and a break preventing U.S. multinationals from being taxed on certain income shifted among offshore subsidiaries. Extensions of credits for wind power production and solar energy property installation were also in the mix, according to these sources.

CQ-Roll Call’s Doug Sword contributed to this report.

(c)2020 CQ Roll Call

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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