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Massive Omnibus Bill Cleared by Senate, Heads to Obama

By Ryan McCrimmon, CQ Roll Call

December 18, 2015 -- The Senate on Friday with little drama cleared 65–33 a $1.15 trillion omnibus appropriations bill and tax extenders package, as members raced to complete business before a holiday recess.

The massive legislation (HR 2029) now will go to President Barack Obama for his expected signature. The omnibus bill was passed by the House earlier in the day 316–113. The tax break extensions were passed Thursday by the House, 318–109.

The final Senate vote came following a 72–26 cloture vote. Both chambers were expected to adjourn by the end of the day.

The easy passage of the omnibus was a rare result for an appropriations bill and a marked difference from the fiscal 2015 omnibus that squeaked through the House by a 219–206 margin one year ago.

The trend could continue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the vote that he's prepared to devote significant floor time next year to moving individual appropriations bills. The Kentucky Republican said getting into the budget and appropriations process earlier in the year than usual, and moving spending bills individually, would demonstrate that the Senate is functioning and that could help Republicans in purple states get re-elected.

Particularly notable in the House Friday was the large show of support from House Republicans, who voted 150-95 for the omnibus—a strong backing for new Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who has pledged to move individual spending bills through the chamber next year. Ninety-five Republicans voted no along with just 18 Democrats.

"Paul made it clear that the more votes we have, the more leverage he's going to have in those fights," said Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. "And I think you saw members joining in to say, 'I want to give the speaker more leverage,' and that resulted in 150 Republicans voting yes, which is historic and I think strengthens his hand for those negotiations."

The outcome is also a victory for Scalise and his whip team, who set out to overcome what some characterize as the "hope yes, vote no" culture of voting against bills for political reasons while hoping the legislation passes.

"I reached out to our members a few weeks ago and said, 'If there's strong objections you have with a bill, then you have to vote that way. But if you think it's a bill that's more good than bad and is actually an important bill to pass, then don't just hope yes, it's your responsibility to vote yes,'" Scalise said.

In an unusual move, Ryan himself voted for the spending package.

House Democrats pitched in 166 votes in favor of the bill after two days during which members' public comments about the omnibus mostly ranged from tepid backing to fiery opposition. But late endorsements from Democratic leaders, including the White House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., helped shore up support.

The spending agreement was the result of weeks of closed-door negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House, but few lawmakers on either side were thrilled with the outcome.

"No one is going to get everything they want and prevent everything they oppose from being included," said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., in a floor speech Thursday urging his colleagues to support the bill.

Conservatives were unhappy about the shortage of Republican policy wins in the bill, like language to restrict Syrian refugees or hit back on the administration's environmental agenda.

"You don't have anything on Syria in there, the pro-life gets are pretty small and there's just not enough in there for all the massive spending increases that are already baked into the pie," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

Numerous Democrats also were dismayed that the package lifted a decades-old ban on crude oil exports and failed to provide any bankruptcy relief for Puerto Rico.

"I can give you a litany of things that are wrong with this bill," Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., told reporters Thursday. He added that leaders should pass another short-term continuing resolution in order to renegotiate the spending and tax extenders deal.

Congress is currently operating on a six-day funding patch (H J Res 78) running through Dec. 22.

Gutierrez was one of the 18 Democrats to vote against the measure. He was joined by the co-chairmen of the Progressive Caucus, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona.

Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y., the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, voted for the bill despite concerns about the lack of language addressing Puerto Rico's financial woes.

G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also supported the omnibus on the floor, as did Linda Sánchez of California, chairwoman of the Hispanic Caucus.

The Senate votes were similarly drama-free, as members mingled and back-slapped on the chamber floor for the last time this year.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who previously endorsed rumored efforts to delay Senate consideration of the omnibus, wasn't present for the vote series.

Rubio's fellow GOP presidential candidates Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas voted against final passage while Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted in favor.

The chamber also waived 73-25 a budgetary point of order from Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who was seeking separate votes on the tax extenders and spending legislation.

Tax Breaks

The package included $680 billion in permanent and short-term extensions of tax breaks for businesses and individuals. Included were permanent extensions of several of President Barack Obama's signature incentives for workers, including the expanded earned income tax credit and additional child tax credit. Several GOP provisions aimed at cutting off benefits to undocumented workers were dropped from the final language.

The worker incentives were coupled with permanent business tax sweeteners including the research and experimentation tax credit and a $500,000 cap on small-business expensing.

The legislation also would delay three taxes contained in the 2010 health care overhaul to help offset the cost of its insurance coverage expansion. A 2.3-percent excise tax on medical devices that took effect in 2013 would be paused in 2016 and 2017 and another levy on high-cost "Cadillac" employer health plans would be delayed from its scheduled start in 2018 to 2020. In addition, The package would also suspend the law's annual tax on insurers that took effect in 2014 for one year in 2017.

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