- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2015

House Speaker Paul Ryan warned Monday that Congress might not meet a Friday deadline to fund the government and finish its work on tax breaks for firms and families, raising the specter of a federal shutdown if Capitol Hill lawmakers must toil for longer than they bargained for ahead of the holiday break.

Speaking to his hometown radio station in Janesville, Wisconsin, the leading Republican said “it might take us more than just this week to get these issues put together correctly.”

House negotiators are trying to hammer out the text of a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending deal to fund basic government operations for a year. Though both sides have been optimistic, appropriators haven’t produced a final product and the end-of-week deadline could force lawmakers to pass a stopgap extension through Dec. 18, when the House is slated to finish up for the year.

Mr. Ryan’s chief lieutenant said members should be ready to roll up their sleeves on Friday or even through the weekend, though he swatted away talk of a second government shutdown in three years.

“Are you hearing anything of a shutdown?” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, asked reporters. “We’re in the midst of closure on these [issues] and we’re not there yet.”

He suggested that Democratic leaders were getting in the way of their negotiators, though a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the process remains in her appropriators’ hands.

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She said the main sticking point on spending was so-called policy add-ons, or “riders,” that would roll back aspects of President Obama’s agenda.

“House Democrats accepted the Republican budget number. We accepted how they decided to distribute the funds from the budget agreement,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a letter to colleagues, referring to a deal in October that set guideposts for the talks. “In order for us to support the omnibus bill, the poison pill riders must go.”

Republicans want to end the ban on U.S. exports of crude oil and chip away at Mr. Obama’s environmental agenda as part of the deal, though they redirected a fight over Planned Parenthood and its abortion practice to a separate, fast-track bill.

The spending bill is the headliner on a lengthy Capitol Hill to-do list before Christmas, alongside a bill to reauthorize certain tax breaks known as “extenders.”

Some Democrats pointed to the extenders bill as the real hang-up, saying negotiations have been tilted in favor of businesses over breaks that benefit families, such as the child tax credit.

“We were coming to closure on some of the poison-pill riders, but there seems to be a problem with the tax extenders. I can’t talk … because that’s not my bill,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the leading Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Mr. McCarthy declined to say if he would accept a Democrat-favored tax break in exchange for ending the oil-export ban.

Congress has crossed some items off its end-of-year to-do list.

On Friday, President Obama signed a $300 billion highway bill that funds roads and transportation projects for five years and revives the lapsed Export-Import Bank. And lawmakers hope to dispatch a bipartisan rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law in the coming days, once the Senate approves the final conference report.

“These have been thorny issues that haven’t been acted on for a long time. We’ve finally delivered big comprehensive solutions, so I’m really happy about that,” Mr. Ryan told 1380 AM radio host Stan Milam. “Now I’ve got two big issues remaining — expiring provisions of the tax code, obviously funding the government — and that’s what we’re working on this week.”

The administration urged Congress to finish its budget work in a way that is “genuinely bipartisan” and does not attack Mr. Obama’s attempts to accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, or Wall Street reforms passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

“It is the responsibility of Congress to step forward and do their job and pass a budget for the United States government on time,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “And that is going to require Republican in Congress abandoning their ongoing effort to advance their ideological agenda through the budgetary process.”

As talks proceed, right-leaning groups such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks are pressing Republican leaders to retain a series of thorny riders on the final bill. Among their top requests is a prohibition on any funds for an Obamacare program that protects insurers against heavy losses.

Last year’s spending deal made the program budget-neutral, meaning the program suffered when insurers stuck with sick customers requested far more from the “risk corridor” program than what high-performing insurers paid in.

Earlier this fall, nonprofit co-ops appeared to fail in quick succession upon learning they would receive less than 13 percent of what they anticipated from the program, so conservatives view this rider as a tangible strike against the health law.

Republicans are poised to pass a fast-track budget bill that guts most of the health care law, but it will run into a certain veto after the House approves the final version.

Mr. Ryan said Monday he doesn’t have a firm timeline for unveiling a Republican replacement to Obamacare next year.

“We need to have an alternative,” he told Mr. Milam, “and that’s something that I’m going to be pushing our congressional committee to develop and to roll out in 2016.”



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