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Congress eyes Thursday budget finish

<p>After more than 10 painful days of backroom negotiations and horse trading over how to fund the government and renew billions in tax breaks, Capitol Hill negotiators are racing to wrap up the year’s business by Thursday.</p><p>House lawmakers planned to post the bill, which will number thousands of pages, on Tuesday night as the Big Four congressional negotiators put the finishing touches on legislative text that is expected to lift the oil export ban for Republicans and deliver clean climate funding to Democrats. The spending measure will be paired with a massive package of tax breaks that will last at least two years, though some breaks could be permanent, lawmakers and aides said.</p><p>For days now House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid have been negotiating the gargantuan package, which builds on John Boehner’s final two-year bipartisan budget deal. But rank-and-file members have been left guessing about the latest developments, and House and Senate Republicans scheduled special caucuses on Wednesday to discuss the deal’s inner workings, including dozens of changes to environmental, healthcare and national security laws.</p><p>First comes the most immediate task: Avoiding a government shutdown on Wednesday night. Negotiators are preparing to pass a stop-gap funding bill giving Congress an additional week of breathing room to process the omnibus spending bill and the tax extenders package. That new continuing resolution would expire on Dec. 22, more than enough time to wrap everything up, even if the measure gets bogged down in the Senate.</p><p>The House is expected to approve the deal on Thursday. Then the drama switches to the Senate, where leaders will try to use the impending holiday vacation as a carrot to force all 100 senators to agree to quick votes. But if the Senate wants to move quickly, leaders will need the five senators running for president to cooperate, even as final text is slated to be released right in the middle of Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate.</p><p>“Anybody who wants to stay here and eat up more of our Christmas holiday, I guess, could do that,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday. “But at some point we’re going to have to vote and I would think people would be incentivized to try to take care of our business this week.”</p><p>The talks between the Big Four leaders have been extremely secretive. But Reid on Tuesday morning took to the Senate floor and confirmed the contours of the agreement — and urged Republicans to vote yes. Later Reid gave a press conference in which he delivered more details of the proposed agreement. McConnell wouldn’t even entertain questions about what is in it. </p><p>By pulling back the curtain on some of the specifics, Reid is also trying to shift the responsibility to Republicans to accept the deal. To hear Reid tell it, Democrats have gone as far as they will go in the end-of-the-year discussions and now it is time for a “reality check.” Republicans, however, say a deal is in place, and appropriators, congressional scorekeepers and leadership are just finalizing several small-bore elements.</p><p>“We’ve made it clear if they want this oil export ban [lifted], there must be included in this [deal] policies to reduce our carbon emissions and encourage use of renewable energy,” Reid said. “We’ve made multiple offers to the Republicans that were certainly doable, reasonable, and all the Republicans had to do was say ‘yes.’”</p><p>Reid said that at this point congressional leaders can either seal the existing framework that’s been lingering now for more than a week or drop the oil export provisions altogether and move on. Democrats are also seeking expanded child care tax credits as part of the negotiations, while Republicans want to limit government payouts to insurers participating in Obamacare and delay the Cadillac tax on the most pricey health insurance plans. </p><p>“Republicans need to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Reid said. “At this pace, we’re going to be here through Christmas.”</p><p>House Republicans will gather on Tuesday evening to get the details from Ryan. McConnell said Senate Republicans were planning a special Wednesday caucus to discuss the measure, adding that he hoped the Senate would vote on the deal on Thursday. </p><p>Ryan and McConnell have each said over the past 24 hours that a deal is close and could be delivered as soon as Tuesday. And McConnell has also vowed to reauthorize an expired health care program and compensation fund for 9/11 first responders and victims, a multi-billion dollar deal that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office says is almost done.</p><br><p>“The finish line is in sight,” Schumer said. </p><p>Later at a press conference, Reid confirmed that House-passed language requiring visas for people who had recently traveled to Iraq and Syria, even if they hail from so-called “visa waiver” countries. will likely be included. Also in is money for a climate fund that Democrats have been fighting for in the wake of the new international climate agreement. </p><p>Senators including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pushed for changes to the visa language that would address concerns that have risen about people who hold dual citizenship who would be affected by the legislation, but two aides said later Thursday that the House language would stay intact. Durbin also said he believes humanitarian workers who have traveled to the high-risk zones should be exempted from the bill. </p><p>“There are people who hold citizenships, for example, in Syria and in France,” Durbin said. <b>“</b>And the question is whether or not they would be prohibited from visiting family in Syria or face a penalty of not being allowed to come to the United States on a visa waiver.”</p><p>House Republicans are likely to vote on the omnibus spending bill and tax extender bill separately, but could send it to the Senate as a single package to expedite consideration. McConnell refused to say if the Senate will process them separately or together. </p><p>Indeed, in typical fashion McConnell offered little public information on the state of discussions on Tuesday other than to say “important progress” is being made. On Monday night, Ryan told his GOP members to expect a partial victory on the oil export ban while losing, for now, the fight over imposing more intense restrictions on refugees from the Middle East. </p><p>McConnell has vowed to keep the Senate in session until the omnibus spending bill and tax extenders package is finalized.</p><p><b><i>John Bresnahan contributed to this report. </i></b></p><br>

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