Here's How GOP Hardliners Could Still Blow Up the Budget Deal
Policy + Politics

Here's How GOP Hardliners Could Still Blow Up the Budget Deal

Twentieth Century Fox/The Fiscal Times

Just after 3 a.m. on Friday, weary senators approved a two-year budget deal. The agreement boosts federal spending for defense and domestic programs, extends U.S. borrowing authority, and makes the first reforms to entitlements including Social Security since the early 1980s. Some critics have expressed surprise at how quickly the deal came together. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time for Congress to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Following the 64-35 vote in the Senate and the 266-167 vote in the House on Wednesday, lawmakers must now get down to the nitty-gritty business of writing an omnibus spending bill to keep the government running past December 11, when the current short-term continuing resolution is due to expire.

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A dozen annual appropriations bills will need to be combined into a single, all-encompassing measure. Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree so far on how to move forward.

The budget agreement, which increases federal spending by $112 billion -- $50 billion in fiscal 2016, $30 billion in 2017, and about $32 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund split evenly between the defense and domestic efforts – was designed by the White House and congressional leaders in such a way as to garner as much congressional support as possible.

While that strategy seems to have paid off so far, it won’t necessarily stop lawmakers from trying to attach policy riders to the agreement.

Speaking on the Senate floor Friday morning, Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV) said his fellow Democrats would cooperate in the future, so long as Republicans don’t “mess up” the appropriations process.

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"We'll be happy to move the bill as long as we get rid of those vexatious riders that have nothing to do with the bill brought before us,” he said.

During a press conference earlier in the week Reid said, “We are not going to do a deal with these vexatious riders … we feel comfortable and confident that that would violate the sense of this agreement.”

Riders, which are sometimes called “poison pills” depending on the political stripe of the lawmaker you’re talking to, can be included as a provision of a bill or attached as an amendment after a successful floor vote.

Republicans could seek to spoil the White House’s legislative victory over the deal by adding riders that would prohibit the administration from implementing its plans for clean energy production, roll back parts of Obamacare or eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood -- the very issue that helped spark the latest Capitol Hill budget standoff.

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The omnibus bill could prove the first major test for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). The newly-installed leader was overwhelmingly elected by his party, in part because he promised rank-and-file conservatives he would return the chamber to “regular order,” which includes allowing individual members to offer more amendments to legislation.

If a statement released Thursday by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus and chair of the House Tea Party Caucus, is to be believed, Ryan vowed to put the “new decentralization rules” in place by Thanksgiving.

Assuming the omnibus spending bill is written by then and Ryan makes good on his promise, the House could spend days considering the measure before the December 11 deadline.

President Obama, who has presided over one government shutdown and has gone to the brink of others several times, urged Congress to get moving on writing the funding bill.

"This agreement is a reminder that Washington can still choose to help, rather than hinder, America’s progress, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it reaches my desk,” he said in a statement released by the White House Friday morning.

“After that, Congress should build on this by getting to work on spending bills that invest in America’s priorities without getting sidetracked by ideological provisions that have no place in America’s budget process,” the president added.