Urgent: User’s Manual to Omnibus spending bill
Per Pergram-Capitol Hill
House and Senate Appropriators worked throughout the weekend to finish a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown and run the government for the rest of fiscal year 2015. The spending figure was derived via the budget pact passed late last year by both the House and Senate, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA).
I am told that the text of the omnibus spending bill should be ready sometime today…perhaps as early as late afternoon. The trick for House Republicans is to post text of the bill today….so the House can conceivably vote on this on Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. The House GOP has what’s known as the “part of three days” rule. That means they want the text of legislation posted publicly for parts of three days in advance of the legislation being voted on. This is to allow lawmakers, staff and the public to read the bill.
There is a little hiccup however.
The government runs out of funding at 11:59:59 pm Wednesday night. The House and Senate both cannot complete the omnibus spending bill by then. So what’s up first is a CR. “CR” is short for “Continuing Resolution.” It is a stopgap measure which would fund the government for a brief period of time. But it only does it at the “old” spending levels. No other provisions are allowed. The House is expected to consider an interim CR to fund the government through 11:59:59 pm Saturday…on Tuesday. The House will treat the bill as a “suspension.” That means they “suspend” the rules for how they handle must bills and move the legislation directly to the floor. However, the trade-off is the legislation needs a two-thirds vote to pass.
The Senate could very well do this via unanimous consent or voice vote….so long as senators move before Wednesday night.
So what’s the difference between a CR and an omnibus?
A CR simply extends all spending at current programs. But an omnibus makes NEW and different spending decisions.
Here’s how it works: The House and Senate are supposed to use 12 distinct spending (appropriations) bills to fund the government each fiscal year. The bills are divided based on subject and government area. For instance, defense is the largest (almost half of all discretionary spending). Legislative Branch is the smallest. Squished in between are bills to fund the Departments of Labor & Health and Human Services (Labor-H, in Capitol Hill-speak), the Departments of Transportation & Housing and Urban Development (known as THUD), and so on.
If one of those bills isn’t funded by October 1 (the start of the government’s fiscal year), then that section of government covered by that bill must shut down. Last fall, the House and Senate approved NONE of the 12 bills…which is why most of the federal government closed.
An omnibus is simply an enterprise which funds various priorities for each of those bills (thus making policy decisions about what’s important and what’s not). However, rather than passing the bills one by one, they simply glom all 12 of those measures together in one, gigantic, take-it-or-leave-it package.
So, we’ll get text of the omnibus sometime today or tonight….they hope before midnight if not sooner. That way, the House GOP can adhere to the “part of three days” rule. If not, they have routinely ignored this rule.
Now here is where things get interesting: Everyone wants to see what is in the bill. I am told to expect some sort of a fix for disabled military retirees. But overall, a senior aide who deals directly with appropriations tells me this is going to be “pretty vanilla.” We’ll see if lawmakers agree…. because they have to pass this.
The House should be able to move the measure in expedited fashion (Wednesday or Thursday). But the Senate always takes longer. First, since this bill deals with spending and taxation, Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution dictates the measure must originate in the House. But then it’s onto the Senate. The question is whether there will be an effort to delay the bill. The measure is potentially subject to two rounds of cloture (needing 60 votes). One round is to call the bill to the floor. The other is to shut off debate. And filing cloture petitions and then letting the “post-cloture clocks” run out sometimes takes days. If things go swimmingly, the Senate should be ready to vote Thursday or Friday….with an OUTSIDE chance of this bleeding into SATURDAY if someone decides to gum up the works.
And then…it’s onto another fight over the debt ceiling in February.
Senior Producer for Capitol Hill