Days after coming together to approve a sweeping two-year budget agreement, congressional Republicans and Democrats are bracing for a new fight over federal spending. This time it’s over attaching controversial policy riders to an omnibus appropriations bill that would keep the government open beyond the December 11 deadline.
While the budget deal set the topline numbers for fiscal year 2016, Congress must still craft an all-encompassing measure that details funding levels for government agencies before the current short-term spending bill runs out.
On Tuesday, newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) struck an ambiguous tone about the use of potentially controversial riders with the must-pass spending legislation.
A rider on any number of issues -- such as defunding Planned Parenthood, repealing parts of Obamacare, or blocking the president’s environmental changes -- could jeopardize the omnibus and risk causing a government shutdown.
“This is the legislative branch and the power of the purse rests within the legislative branch, and we fully expect that we're going to exercise that power,” he said during his first press conference as speaker.
While Ryan didn’t elaborate, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) interpreted his remarks as a “bouquet” to the House Freedom Caucus. The hardline group, whose demands about spending – most recently eliminating federal dollars for Planned Parenthood – helped drive Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, into early retirement.
“The power of the purse doesn't give Republicans the right to hold government hostage unless we repeal Dodd-Frank or de-fund Planned Parenthood. We're not going to let that happen. We're not,” Reid said during a Capitol Hill press conference.
Democrats are “not looking for any riders,” he added, a statement that could come back to haunt Reid as negotiations move forward.
President Obama is insisting on a “clean” government funding bill and threatened to veto any legislation that doesn’t pass his party’s litmus test.
“My suspicion is that Speaker Ryan doesn't want to preside over government shutdown six weeks after getting his new job,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “So we continue to have a lot of confidence that … as Congress works to implement the budget agreement that the president just signed into law yesterday, that they'll continue to work in a bipartisan spirit that will allow the government to remain open.”
Obama isn’t taking any chances, though, meeting with the top Democrats on the House and Senate appropriations committees at the White House on Tuesday to go over strategy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has vowed that there would be “no more government shutdowns” on his watch, seemed to take Ryan’s side.
“Riders in appropriations bills are quite common. The Democrats will have some, too. Of course, there will be some riders in the appropriation bills. I'm having a hard time remembering [any] that didn't,” he told reporters during a press conference.
Asked if that included a rider to zero out Planned Parenthood funding, the issue that helped prompt the spending fight, McConnell said lawmakers would “negotiate all of that through the appropriations committee process.”