Deadline nears to reach omnibus deal, avoid shutdown

Wednesday - 12/7/2011, 11:32am EST

Erik Wasson, staff writer, The Hill

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By Jolie Lee
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

The fight has started to push a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill through Congress to fund the federal government through the rest of the year. The current continuing resolution expires Dec. 16.

Congress has passed three appropriations bills for fiscal year 2012, which started Oct. 1, and is trying to wrap up the remaining nine bills into one package, otherwise known as an omnibus.

The House must introduce the omnibus bill by Monday — at latest Tuesday — in order to give lawmakers three days for inspection and vote on the bill Dec. 15. If passed by the House, the Senate can be expected to vote later that day or on Dec. 16.

If Congress has the option of "flatlining the agencies and current policies with slight reductions according to the debt ceiling deal, I think the government shutdown probably can be avoided," said Erik Wasson, staff writer at The Hill, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris.

However, two of the spending bills have become "the thorniest" and possibly sticking points to passing an omnibus — funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and funding for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. Some conservatives want to prevent funding for abortion and the way the National Labor Relations Board handles unions.

But the administration's budget director, Jacob Lew, told reporters last week the President would not approve an omnibus that included such riders.

"I haven't seen the clear movement away from the riders that we're going to need to see," Lew said. "These issues kind of keep coming back up."

If Congress and the White House cannot reach an agreement, Wasson said Congress would likely have to pass another short-term spending bill, or continuing resolution.

Congress is also battling over extending the payroll tax extension and unemployment insurance.

"As time runs down, there will be temptation to Christmas tree this omnibus with other things like that ... If it becomes loaded down, it could end up sinking the bill," Wasson said.

Another wrinkle in this battle is a provision in the debt ceiling deal to include "a little leeway" on disaster spending, allowing the government to set the amount based on a rolling average of what's been spent the last decade.

"Basically, if you put that in there, spending next year will be above this year," Wasson said. "And the tea party folks are very upset about this idea because they're running on the idea they've come and successfully cut spending in Washington."

He added, "It's a very fluid situation as we look to the next couple of days."

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