WASHINGTON – A 1,603-page bill was filed Tuesday, the culmination of weeks of intense negotiations over how to avoid another government shutdown. The $1.1 trillion bill will fund most of the government until September 2015.
The legislation delays until early next year a showdown over the president’s executive orders on immigration. The bill funds the Department of Homeland Security only until Feb. 27, 2015. By then, Republicans will have gained control of the Senate and be better positioned to use the funding as leverage to try to force President Barack Obama to reverse himself on the immigration orders. (It's essentially unthinkable that he would withdraw the orders, but possible that he might beef up border security further to mollify the GOP.)
The biggest question is whether the massive piece of legislation can pass in less than two days. Congressional leaders still must secure the votes to pass the bill that has been dubbed a “cromnibus,” since it’s a blend of a short-term continuing resolution, or CR, and a long-term omnibus bill.
The deadline to fund the government is Thursday at midnight. Without a funding bill, the government will shut down on Friday. That gives Congress a little more than 48 hours to pass the bill and have it signed by the president to avert another government shutdown. By normal congressional standards, that will require moving at the speed of light. If this bill were to be further delayed, Congress could pass a one- or two-day CR to avoid a shutdown until the bill can be passed.
The legislation has bipartisan backing that could move it swiftly through both chambers of Congress. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kent., released a joint statement calling for swift passage.
“After months of thorough, business-like, sometimes tough but always civil negotiations, we have reached a responsible, bipartisan and bicameral agreement on funding for government operations for 2015," said the statement. "More than two months into the fiscal year, it’s time we end government on autopilot so we can turn our focus to meeting the day to day needs of Americans and long-range needs of the nation.
In addition to funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, the bill also addresses several policy issues and additional funding requests. The bill includes $112 million in emergency funds to respond to the Ebola outbreak.
The bill includes the requested $5 billion to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which includes $1.6 billion for training of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. The bill also authorizes the Department of Defense to lead a program training Syrian opposition and $500 million to fund the program. Additionally, the bill provides $4.1 billion for "training and sustaining" security forces in Afghanistan. Those numbers are what the president requested and the Republicans didn't object.
The bill includes $948 million for a program to address unaccompanied minor immigrants -- $80 million more than was appropriated last year, but far less than the administration requested to address the problem.
The bill rolls back polices put into place in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The law has drawn the ire of Republicans who had made undoing some of its provisions a key goal in the coming years.
The bill also undermines a vote taken by the residents of Washington, D.C., to legalize the use of marijuana. It stops the District's government -- which receives federal funds -- from using the money to "enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution" of marijuana or any other Schedule I drug.
Democrats had not wanted to undercut Dodd-Frank or the marijuana vote, but apparently decided that it wasn't worth risking a shutdown to oppose the stipulations.
Just because a bipartisan bill has been crafted and there appears to be enough Democratic support for passage doesn't mean the legislation is a done deal. Conservatives are sure to be livid that the legislation isn’t taking a more aggressive stance against Obama’s immigration orders.
In previous funding fights, negotiated deals have fallen apart when conservatives rebelled against their leadership. But House Speaker John Boehner seems confident that he will be able to move forward even if the right-flank of his party is unhappy.
Getting to the point where they could file a bill has been a long slog for congressional leaders.
Before the midterm elections, GOP leaders began to negotiate an omnibus bill with Democrats that would have funded all of the government until September 2015. But after Republicans secured control of the Senate, conservatives began to argue that they would be forgoing their leverage by agreeing to fund the government for the entire year.
Then Obama signed a series of executive orders that will provide legal status to about 5 million undocumented immigrants, infuriating conservatives.
The anger bled into the appropriations process, with conservatives advocating funding the government only until January, at which point they could push back harder on the president, given their control of both houses of Congress.
But leaders seem to have successfully made the case that risking another government shutdown would hurt the GOP politically.
Assuming that Republicans are going forward on the new bill without conservatives onboard, Democratic support is likely to be crucial to ensure passage. Since Democrats still control the Senate, anything passed by the House on purely Republican votes would be unlikely to pass the Senate.
“Our goal has always been to keep government open, and to accomplish that goal in a bipartisan manner. We have confidence in our appropriators as they have over the last weeks sought to negotiate a position that represents the values of our Caucus," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said after the bill was filed. "Until we review the final language, we cannot make a determination about whether House Democrats can support this legislation, but I am hopeful.”
The four chamber leaders -- Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate -- have been working the last days to craft a deal that could pass swiftly. Sticking points arose over policy riders that were proposed, everything from changing the D.C. marijuana rules to overriding environmental regulations Obama had put in place.
Last week, it appeared they had neared a deal. Lawmakers originally planned to file the bill before Friday, giving members of Congress the weekend to digest the contents. But negotiations stalled as leadership tried to find a way to work out several sticking points.
There were attempts to include the renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, a program that provides federal assistance in insuring large buildings and sports arenas in the event of a terrorist attack. But a deal couldn’t be reached and ultimately TRIA was stripped from the spending bill. It will have to survive on its own as a standalone piece of legislation.
If the $1.1 trillion spending bill passes the House and Senate and Obama signs it, that would avert a shutdown -- and give the deeply unpopular 113th Congress an accomplishment to take home for Christmas.