Hill negotiations stall as shutdown looms

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Rep. Paul Ryan


WASHINGTON (CNN) — Racing to pass a giant government funding bill before breaking for the holidays, negotiations are stalled as both sides battle over which policy provisions to add, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill Tuesday said it’s likely Congress will work through the weekend.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the House would pass a short-term funding bill for “a handful of days” to avoid a government shutdown on Friday, December 11.

“We don’t expect to do this for a long-term, we need to get it right,” Ryan said. “I don’t want us to go home until we get this done.”

After committee leaders hammered out most of the bill, the toughest issues were kicked up to top GOP and Democratic leaders.

Top aides have been meeting and going back and forth over the what measures are deal killers, and what they both can live with including in a final deal. The budget deal that Congress agreed to earlier this fall already set out the top-line spending levels so much of the haggling is over which policy provisions the bill will include.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland said Monday the negotiations between House and Senate leaders were “stuck” and blamed the decision to tie a complex package of tax break extensions to the funding measure.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday described the talks as “alive, that’s about it,” and blamed the logjam on Republicans for insisting on including controversial policy riders in the bill that Democrats don’t like. Those policies deal with hot button issues like the Syrian refugee flow and the visa waiver program, as well as more mundane issues like campaign finance reform, Environmental Protection Agency regulations and lifting the ban on exporting American oil.

Reid himself is pushing for one provision dealing with bankruptcy law that could help Caesars, the struggling casino operator.

“It doesn’t apply to Caesars, it applies to everybody because that’s a bankruptcy law, has been in this country for more than 90 years,” the Nevada senator said while explaining the proposal to reporters.

One senior Democratic leadership aide predicted there was only a 60-40 chance negotiations on the spending would succeed and an even less likely chance a long-term tax package, which would make many of the tax breaks permanent, would pass.

If the long-term tax package can’t be agreed to, lawmakers on both sides said they expected to pass a two-year bill to extend those expiring provisions. House Democrats are pushing back hard on linking the tax deal to the spending bill. House Republicans introduced the two year package, but GOP aides say it’s simply a placeholder, and that talks are still proceeding on the broader legislation.

A top priority for Democrats in the tax bill would be require to index for inflation the child tax credit but Republicans are balking at that proposal.

Republican aides were less pessimistic, and say that bill has a lot of provisions for members on both sides, and predicted a deal would be reached soon.

At a news conference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a signal to rank-and-file Republicans to support the emerging funding bill, so GOP spending priorities in the federal agencies could be implemented.

“These are bills written by Republicans. We think they should pass and hope they will pass,” McConnell said. “I believe we should pass both of these before Christmas. I asked my members to be prepared to be there this weekend as we press through to try to complete what is gonna be, I think, remembered as a very, very productive first session of this Congress.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also told House GOP members to be ready to stay in Washington, and warned there could be votes over the weekend.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus are insisting that leaders include a bill the House passed last month requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to certify that all refugees entering the U.S. from Syria and Iraq don’t present a national security risk.

Democrats, however, are rejecting that effort, and pointing instead to a bipartisan bill the House overwhelmingly passed on Tuesday to reform the visa waiver program.

But conservatives are pushing hard for the refugee language, which they note passed with a veto-proof majority in the House last month.

Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon, who reminded reporters he’s never voted for a spending bill, said he was willing to back the measure if it included a provision changing the Syrian refugee vetting process.

“If we got that in there a lot of the Freedom Caucus members would probably support the (omnibus spending bill),” Salmon said.

Ryan met with the leaders of the Freedom Caucus and other House GOP factions on Tuesday afternoon to get their temperature on what they could back.

Texas Rep. Bill Flores, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said they discussed some ideas for jumpstarting the talks, but blamed Democrats for resisting.

“They got more money, but they are not willing to consider any of our policy riders,” Flores said, referring to Democrats, saying, “that’s not negotiating in good faith.”