Republicans in the House of Representatives left a meeting on Capitol Hill Monday evening with few answers on what will be included in a massive spending bill to keep the government funded ahead of a looming Friday deadline.
Aides and members say lawmakers are scrambling to resolve a host of policy disagreements from a controversial rail program between New York and New Jersey to a health care market stabilization package that has become intertwined with the must-pass spending bill.
Lawmakers need to fund the government before midnight Friday to avert a federal government shutdown.
Health care measures not currently included
Among the top unresolved issues Monday was what to do about the Affordable Care Act and whether to attach legislation aimed at stabilizing the Obamacare marketplace and driving down insurance premiums.
Multiple Republicans including Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said the Obamacare stabilization money hadn’t been included. Steve Womack, a Republican from Arkansas, reiterated that the bill wasn’t finished yet, but that at present he did not believe that stabilization measures for the Affordable Care Act marketplace would be included in the bill because of fights over whether to include the Hyde Amendment, which is regularly attached to annual funding bills, and makes permanent a ban on federal agencies from using funds for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.
“No Hyde protections, no CSRs,” Womack said referring to the cost sharing reduction payments that go to insurers to help cover the cost of insuring low income people. Womack said that the payments were “not in there as we speak.”
According to a person in the room, there was applause when leadership told the room they wouldn’t compromise on the issue and that plans were to keep health care stabilization out of the proposal if Democrats wouldn’t agree on abortion restrictions.
Over the weekend, according to two people familiar with the call, President Donald Trump spoke directly with the legislation’s top sponsors Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and expressed his support for the plan. But Democrats have rebuffed abortion restrictions that Republicans want to include in it. And some conservatives have balked at spending money to prop up a health care system they tried to repeal last year.
“I’m still optimistic it’s going to be included,” Collins said Monday evening before House Republicans met. “It is the right thing to do. It would result in rate decreases that would provide substantial relief.”
Other issues up for debate
Republican leaders and committee chairs who gave presentations Monday in the closed-door conference meeting pitched the $1.3 trillion bill as a “big win” to a skeptical conference, according to one lawmaker in the room.
The meeting has also included presentations from House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry, who touted the major increase in defense spending, and House Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghusen, who walked through the key components of the bill.
Freylinghusen acknowledged the massive bill isn’t done yet as of Monday evening and there are still ongoing negotiations, the lawmaker in the room told CNN.
But health care is hardly the only issue causing tension in the negotiations. According to several aides who spoke with CNN, the omnibus isn’t expected to include legislation that would modernize the process victims on Capitol Hill undergo when they report harassment. Reports that it would not be included in the must-pass spending bill prompted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, to release a blistering statement.
“I am appalled that House and Senate leadership removed provisions from the omnibus bill at the last minute that would have finally brought accountability and transparency to Congress’s sexual harassment reporting process,” Gillibrand said. “It begs the question: Who are they trying to protect?”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman David Popp argued that nothing was removed last minute, but instead that the negotiations were ongoing.
Another issue that may go untouched is immigration. Some had hoped that the White House and Capitol Hill could find a way to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the spending negotiations.
But instead, a source familiar told CNN that the White House and congressional negotiators hit an impasse Sunday after the White House offered Democrats $25 billion in wall funding in exchange for a two and a half year continuation of DACA. A counter offer was made to demand a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA eligible individuals in exchange for full wall funding, but according to the source familiar with the discussion, the White House passed. Politico was the first to report the negotiation.
At this point, controversial riders may be scrapped rather than included in an effort to stave off any government shutdown. Republicans were still trying to find a way to correct some errors in their tax bill, but those negotiations were hitting headwinds as Democrats demanded concessions for the changes.
For now, the race is on to get the bill out the door and to the floor where it can get a vote before Friday.
“We’ll get there,” McConnell told reporters Monday evening.