The House overwhelmingly approved a $680 billion package of tax cuts even as the White House and House leaders in both parties scrambled to round up support for a $1.1 trillion spending bill scheduled for a vote Friday morning.
The tax package passed 318-109, with 241 Republicans — virtually the entire GOP Conference — voting yes.
But the dynamics on the spending bill are far different, and at this time, passage is far from assured.
The Capitol isn’t in full panic yet, but there does appear to be a rising level of concern on the Democratic side of the aisle that they will be short the votes needed to pass the omnibus spending bill. Liberals are angry that the bill includes language to lift the longstanding ban to export U.S. oil, and is silent on the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and other Democratic priorities. House Democrats used a Thursday afternoon vote series to whip the measure, aware that they need to provide somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 votes to send the bill to the Senate. Democratic aides suggested that their side was far from reaching that target at this point.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who announced her intention to support the bill Thursday morning in a closed party meeting, said she wasn’t confident she had the votes locked up to pass the bill.
“No, we’re talking it through,” Pelosi told reporters. “There is concern about how this all came together…. I feel that what we did in the bill…10 times offsets that damage we did.”
Late on Thursday, Pelosi sent a letter to fellow Democrats urging them to support the measure.
“Personally, I was dismayed by Republicans’ insistence on lifting the oil export ban in the omnibus,” Pelosi said. “However, Republicans’ desperate thirst for lifting the oil export ban empowered Democrats to win significant concessions throughout the omnibus, including ridding the bill of scores of deeply destructive poison pill riders.”
Pelosi added: “For myself, after long and serious study of the bill’s details, I concluded that while I detest lifting the oil export ban, I will not empower Big Oil to upend so many victories for hard-working American families.”
Pelosi is trying to convince members of her party that, while the bill isn’t perfect, it is better than a full-year continuing resolution, which would lower spending levels drastically. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) went to the floor to urge members to support the omnibus package.
The White House is also getting engaged. Senior Obama administration aides are pressing congressional Democrats to support the bill, saying it includes important priorities. White House officials are also saying they will urge Congress to address Puerto Rico’s financial situation as soon as possible, a nod to Democrats who are particularly upset the issue wasn’t included in the spending bill.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were on Capitol Hill for a previously scheduled meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Foxx asked lawmakers to back the bill, and aides said they expected the other Cabinet secretaries to do the same.
House Republicans, meanwhile, say they are gaining new support on their side. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) hosted a meeting of deputy vote counters Thursday morning, and split up undecided members among his loyal allies. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are also working to build support. Several members of the Republican leadership say their party could produce more than 120 votes.
The spending bill vote is scheduled for just after 9 a.m. Friday morning, and many members of the House are betting that people will be eager for their two-week holiday recess, and will vote to clear the measure.
Should the measure fail — which many doubt it will — Congress would likely stay in session over the weekend. Government funding runs out on Dec. 22.
Many Republicans and Democrats alike believe that Pelosi’s Democrats will eventually fall in line. The White House is supportive of the bill, and Democrats succeeded in beating back Republican attempts to include charged policy riders. Pelosi, in announcing her support, said it’s important for lawmakers to balance the good and bad.
“Now, tactically, some people have said — I think it’s really important, and I know that you all have to read the bill, balance the equities,” Pelosi told a closed meeting of House Democrats. “I have come down — and this is really hard for me because of this oil thing which, again, is a whole other session just to talk about that. You have to weigh the equity and come down. I have come down in favor of supporting the bill.”
Still, the rank and file is taking a close look. Conservatives think it spends too much money and does too little to curb Syrian and Iraqi refugees from coming into the United States. Still, the House Freedom Caucus said they are not taking a position on the bill, and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a leader of the group, said, “We’re going to let folks make up their own mind about it.”
But liberals say they loath the idea that the legislation lifts the several-decade old ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, want assistance for financially unstable Puerto Rico and think the bill is silent on their priorities like helping to ease poverty. Pelosi huddled with the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Tri-Caucus, a group of Asian Pacific, Hispanic and black lawmakers, who expressed their deep unease with the legislation.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have expressed their complaints about the funding bill the loudest, and they have ratcheted the pressure up on Pelosi. A significant chunk of the large CPC is threatening to vote no, which could put the bill’s passage in jeopardy. But senior Democratic and Republican sources say Pelosi will be able to assuage their concerns. Democratic met Thursday morning, to take further stock of their votes. California Rep. Xavier Becerra, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield were loudest in their opposition to the bill.
However, Pelosi and her leadership team is telling the rank and file that if they don’t provide 118 votes, they will end up with permanent business tax breaks, and a yearlong continuing resolution at a lower spending level — a far worse outcome for Democrats. Butterfield, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said it was a difficult position to be in.
“I’m concerned about the unintended consequences,” New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said of voting against the omnibus.
Meanwhile, the House GOP whip team has divided up undecided lawmakers to talk to. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are personally involved with whipping, several sources said. House Republicans are expected to provide anywhere between 100 and 120 votes for the spending bill, which means 100 Democrats would have to vote yes to ensure passage.
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