- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Congressional leaders were trying to hold the center in the run-up to Thursday’s government shutdown deadline, with Senate Democrats and House Republicans pleading for their troops to back a $1.1 trillion spending bill that had those on both extremes of the ideological spectrum fuming.

House Republican leaders touted dents to the Internal Revenue Service budget and Environmental Protection Agency staffing levels, language that stalls some of President Obama’s plans to battle climate change, and the chance to fight the White House’s deportation amnesty next year as reasons to get behind the massive 1,600-page bill.

Most lawmakers got their first look at the legislation Wednesday morning.

Senate Democrats said the bill is the last, best chance they have, before they lose control of the chamber in January, to win higher funding for some of their priorities.

“You know, sometimes you give a little, you take a little, but you stand up for them all,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who negotiated the deal for her party. “We were able to compromise without what I call ‘capitulation on principle.’ So I wanted to say to my colleagues, ‘Stay steady, stay strong.’”

Many of her fellow Democrats don’t see it that way.

The White House refused to commit to signing the bill, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, insisted on stripping two parts: one that would alter the rules for treatment of financial derivatives and another that would raise the cap on donations from individuals to political parties.

“These provisions are destructive to middle-class families and to the practice of our democracy,” she said. “We must get them out of the omnibus package.”

Many of her troops said they couldn’t vote for the bill as it stands, which would be a major rebuke to Ms. Mikulski.

If most Democrats join the several dozen conservative Republicans who oppose the bill — they argue it allows Mr. Obama’s amnesty to proceed for the next two months — it could doom the legislation, which must pass by midnight Thursday to avoid a government shutdown.

Likewise, an Obama veto would scuttle the bill, sending Washington toward its second government shutdown in as many years.

This time, however, blame likely would land on Democrats at least as much as Republicans.

That is one reason why Republicans doubted Mrs. Pelosi would stand firm on her objections.

Pelosi’s just blowing smoke,” said a Republican aide. “She’ll vote for it. She’s not about to vote against a bill her party negotiated.”

The bill funds most basic government operations for the rest of the fiscal year, which lasts through September, but it funds the Homeland Security Department only through Feb. 27.

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, looked for a strong showing from rank-and-file members in the final vote. They expected as many as 40 defectors but aimed to cut that number to about 30, saying they sense growing support for the leadership’s strategy to clear the decks this year and set up a major brawl over Mr. Obama’s immigration moves early next year, ahead of that February deadline.

“Without a threat of a government shutdown, this sets up a direct challenge to the president’s unilateral actions on immigration when we have new majorities in both chambers of Congress,” House Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters after huddling with his fellow Republicans in the morning.

Rank-and-file Republicans were not as enthusiastic.

“There’s still a whole lot of things in there conservatives don’t like,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican who favored the leadership’s strategy but soured after he saw the details. He said he was undecided about how to vote.

“The stronger conservatives are certainly leaning against it at this point,” he said. “Most people still think it’s going to pass, but who knows?”

Democrats, though, are shaping up as the chief obstacle.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and top lieutenant of Mrs. Pelosi, said he and many of his colleagues would vote no. His opposition went beyond that of Mrs. Pelosi, who voiced “deep concerns” but did not vow to vote against the bill.

“Democrats are still the majority in the Senate, and we should not pass legislation that further empowers special interests,” Mr. Van Hollen told reporters outside the House chamber.

He declined to criticize Ms. Mikulski, the fellow Marylander who struck the deal for Senate Democrats.

“I’m not going to comment on the negotiations. The reason is I don’t know all the ins and outs of the negotiations,” he said.

Democrats said the provision allowing federally backed banks to trade over-the-counter derivatives could put taxpayers on the hook for losses. They said the changes walked back protections written into the Wall Street reform law enacted in the wake of the 2008 housing and bank crashes.

Former Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who wrote that reform law, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a rising liberal star among Democrats, called on their party to reject the changes.

Republicans countered that dozens of House Democrats voted for the derivatives change in an earlier stand-alone bill. Mr. Boehner’s office said even Mr. Frank supported those kinds of changes in a 2012 report he signed before his retirement from the House.

Republicans also defended the changes that would allow wealthy donors to give 10 times more money to national political party committees than they can now.

“All these provisions in this bill have been worked out in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion, or they wouldn’t be in the bill,” Mr. Boehner said.

GOP leaders urged their fellow Republicans to look at the steps they took to rein in Mr. Obama.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said the bill cuts the EPA staffing to levels not seen since the 1980s and slices more than $300 million from the IRS budget. It also stops an EPA lead regulation, which Mr. Scalise said has caused a nationwide run on firearms ammunition, leaving many gun owners struggling to find supplies.

Conservative pressure groups that were trying to rally opposition said the bill didn’t immediately halt Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty.

That left conservative groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth on the same side as liberal campaign finance group Democracy 21 and labor union umbrella AFL-CIO, which also called for the bill to be defeated, though for different reasons.

Some on both sides questioned a vote on the massive bill with only two days to read and understand all of its provisions.

Mr. Boehner, who campaigned for the House majority in 2010 on promises of ending that type of legislating, said Wednesday that’s just how things worked out.

“When we get to the end of a two-year session of Congress, a lot of work gets built up that never gets across one floor or the other floor,” he said. “And as a result, when we get to the end of session, members are trying to find a way to get their legislation across the finish line, because of not really issues on the House side, more issues on the Senate side, but to facilitate their ability to move legislation, some of the stuff ends up in one bill.”

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