Disarray on Capitol Hill as ‘CRomnibus’ Stalls
Policy + Politics

Disarray on Capitol Hill as ‘CRomnibus’ Stalls

As Congress struggled to pass a last minute omnibus spending bill ahead of a government shutdown Thursday night, both Republicans and Democrats appeared to be in a state of utter disarray. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who had earlier in the day predicted that the bill would pass with bipartisan support, saw the legislation barely survive a procedural vote with no Democratic support and a considerable number of Republican defections. 

The 214-212 vote evidently convinced Boehner that he might not have enough support to secure final passage of the bill, and he took the House into recess in the middle of the afternoon, giving no indication when, or even if, the House would vote on final passage.

Related: 8 Weird Items in Congress’ Big Spending Bill

Rather than gloating over the GOP’s troubles, Democrats were battling among themselves, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-CA) excoriating the bill on the House floor at the same time President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget released a statement expressing the administration’s support for the bill’s passage. 

Congressional Democrats are primarily upset with two riders included in the bill. The one provoking the most anger would ease some of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, which introduced new regulations on Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis. The other would greatly increase the amount of money wealthy individuals could contribute to the Republican and Democratic national committees and their satellite groups. Other Democrats expressed their displeasure over what they view as inadequate funding levels for the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and other domestic programs.

Meanwhile, across the aisle, scores of conservative Republicans are fuming because the massive spending bill doesn’t attempt to block implementation of President Obama’s controversial executive order that would protect as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation. Some also object to the idea that they won’t be able to really put their imprint on a budget blueprint until long after the GOP takes control of both chambers of Congress next year.

As White House spokesman Josh Earnest went to the Briefing Room to tell reporters that Obama would sign the bill if Congress sent it to him, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was sending out a series of tweets to its 163,000 followers urging them to press members of Congress to vote against the omnibus. 

Related: Last-Minute Changes Could Derail Spending Bill

To be sure, the White House didn’t exactly deliver a ringing endorsement of the bill. The Statement of Administrative Policy released Thursday read, “The Administration appreciates the bipartisan effort to include full-year appropriations legislation for most Government functions that allows for planning and provides certainty, while making progress toward appropriately investing in economic growth and opportunity, and adequately funding national security requirements.” 

Pelosi delivered a fiery floor speech attacking the omnibus bill’s contents as well as the White House’s decision to back it. “I’m enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this. That would be the only reason I think they would say they would sign such a bill,” she said.

She also sent a letter to her Democratic colleagues after Boehner took the House into recess.

“It is clear from this recess on the floor that the Republicans don’t have enough votes to pass the CRomnibus,” she wrote, referring to the bill by a nickname reflecting its lack of full-year funding for DHS, which will have to be accomplished through a continuing resolution. “This increases our leverage to get two offensive provisions of the bill removed: the bank bailout and big money for campaigns provision. However you decide to vote in the end, I thank those who continue to give us leverage to improve the bill.” 

Related: Domestic Spending Again Takes Back Seat to Defense

Why This Matters

While Republicans don’t officially have control of both Houses of Congress yet, the omnibus spending bill is a test of the party’s ability to govern effectively going forward. A government shutdown originating in the GOP-controlled House would not be a good omen for future legislative success. Meanwhile, the mixed messages coming from Democrats calls into question their ability to remain united as a minority party in Congress.

The controversial financial provision would weaken an element of the 2010 Wall Street reform bill aimed at making banks less susceptible to shocks from the financial markets. The Dodd-Frank reform forced banks to move most of their risky trading of swaps and derivatives to separately capitalized subsidiaries. The investments in question are relatively complex and enable huge bets on the changing value of commodities, other borrowers’ creditworthiness, and more. They were partly blamed for the near-collapse of the financial services industry during the crisis.

The endgame for the omnibus is very much up in the air. If Boehner and House leadership determine that they don’t have the votes to pass it, they will still need to get a measure funding the government for the near-term through the House and over to the Senate before the government shuts down at midnight.

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