- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2015

Congress cleared a nearly $2 trillion package to fund the government and extend popular tax breaks while increasing the federal deficit by hundreds of billions, angering conservatives even as a host of Republicans linked arms with Democrats to usher the compromise to President Obama’s desk and avert a Christmastime crisis.

The year-end deal split Senate Republicans but grabbed enough Democratic support to pass, 65-33, putting the finishing touches on Capitol Hill’s work for the year.

“This legislation helps our economy, helps our national security, and strikes more blows to a partisan health law that hurts the middle class,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who cast it as the capstone to a successful year for himself and his troops, who took control of the Senate in January.

Mr. Obama signed the deal late Friday afternoon, even though he is “not wild about everything in it.”

“I’m sure that’s true for everybody,” he said at his end-of-year press conference.

In the Senate, 27 Republicans voted “yes” and 26 of them rejected the package.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican running for president, missed the vote, later telling CBS News that “in essence, not voting for it is a vote against it.”

Among other 2016 contenders, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky rejected the deal, while Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted for it.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent vying with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, voted “no.”

Earlier Friday, the House easily overcame discontent in both parties to pass the $1.1 trillion “omnibus” spending bill, avoiding a government shutdown and allowing Speaker Paul D. Ryan to turn his gaze toward a pivotal 2016.

All but 18 Democrats rallied with 150 Republicans to approve the bill, 316-113, one day after the GOP majority carried the $620 billion tax portion of the two-pronged bargain.

The massive deal was negotiated by the House, Senate and White House and injects certainly into the tax code, knocks Obamacare and funds federal agencies through the rest of the fiscal year.

Among highlights, it permanently funds a health program for 9/11 workers and grants President Obama new powers to require some visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries to face extra scrutiny if they’ve been to Iraq or Syria recently.

Obamacare’s contentious tax on generous “Cadillac” plans offered by some employers will take effect in 2020 — instead of 2018 — under the deal.

Minority Leader Leader Nancy Pelosi had urged her troops to look past a contentious spending provision that lifts a ban on U.S. oil exports, clearing the way for a bipartisan vote that allowed Mr. Ryan to pass his first test as speaker.

“Today, the House came together to ensure our government is open and working for the American people,” Mr. Ryan said.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, leaned on “Star Wars” hysteria to whip support for the omnibus package in the upper chamber.

“Let the force be with us,” she said.

The key work on the spending side happened in October, when negotiators agreed to new budget numbers for 2016 and 2017, undoing much of the sequester that had cut deeply into federal agencies’ operations, but had also helped to rein in runaway deficits.

Many Republicans grumbled that the deal unravels the budget gains the GOP won during the previous four years without winning any of the restrictions they wanted to impose on Mr. Obama. They wanted to reel in his expansive use of executive power, his new rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions and his plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. this year.

Still, the GOP secured a boost in military spending and lifted the 40-year-old prohibition on oil exports, aggrieving Democrats who nonetheless won the biggest hike in history on clean energy spending in exchange for lifting the ban.

“After long and serious study of the bill’s details, I concluded that while I detest lifting the oil export ban, I will not empower Big Oil to upend so many victories for hardworking American families,” Mrs. Pelosi said in a “dear colleagues” letter urging Democrats to support the omnibus.

Democrats also fumed that the measure did nothing to help Puerto Rico out of its debt crisis, though Republican leaders soothed those concerns by vowing to craft a solution for the U.S. territory by March 31.

Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, did not try to hide his disgust with how the 11th-hour deal was struck, saying it was left in his lap from his predecessor, John A. Boehner, and clears the decks for a fruitful new year.

Though 95 Republicans rejected the spending bill, Mr. Ryan and his team were able to whip “yes” votes from a majority of the GOP caucus after pledging to push a conservative 2016 agenda with input from rank-and-file members.

Already, he is laying plans to make a dozen appropriations bills are passed through committee next year, a legislative ideal known as regular order.

“He’s promised regular order going forward. I believe him,” Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican and member of the House Freedom Caucus that nudged Mr. Boehner out of town, said Thursday.

Mr. Brat said Friday’s spending vote is a “relic of the year-long process,” so Mr. Ryan isn’t really to blame for its pitfalls.

Stephen Dinan and Anjali Shastry contributed to this report.

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