This Week on the Hill: Omnibus Negotiations Stand in the Way of Winter Recess

December 14, 2015

This week will test the ability for Democrats and Republicans to work through their differences towards compromise as lawmakers rush to complete a $1.1 trillion spending measure to fund the government and a package of tax breaks before the winter recess. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said the text of a broader omnibus spending bill may be filed this morning and that the goal is for both chambers to finish work on the measure by Wednesday evening, beating the deadline set by a short-term extension (H.R. 2250) passed last week. Members are trying to reconcile differences on the policy riders to be attached to the spending measure, including lifting the nation’s crude oil export ban, blocking Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S., and repealing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. rule. 

Lawmakers are also considering whether or not to include a series of tax breaks as a part of the must-pass legislation. Senate negotiators say that the ‘extenders’ package would make several important tax breaks open-ended and place a moratorium on implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) ‘Cadillac’ and medical device taxes. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has suggested that Democrats are generally opposed to unifying the omnibus and tax extenders measures, saying that she has made it clear that Republicans shouldn’t “count on our votes for that.” Should differences on the tax bill prove intractable to solve this week, Congress would likely pass a less expansive bill extending certain tax breaks for two years.

With Congress scheduled to be in session only through the end of the week, passing any package will need to be on an expedited timeline. Should Congress fail to reach an agreement by Wednesday, a third short-term continuing resolution will be needed to push debate later into the week, or possibly even to kick the issue into 2016. 

While the omnibus and tax extenders negotiations will be the priority, both chambers have other unfinished business to tackle next week before trying to wrap up work for the year. The Senate begins today with votes on four non-controversial executive nominations, and will move on to consider House-passed legislation (H.R. 4188) authorizing Coast Guard programs and funding. The House has no votes scheduled for today, but is set to take up a series of bills under suspension of the rules beginning tomorrow. Those bills are:

  • H.R. 3654 – The Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act of 2015 would require the President to submit a report to Congress on U.S. strategy to combat terrorist organizations’ use of social media.
  • H. Res. 536 – Under this resolution, the House would express its support for a free press in Latin America and the Caribbean and condemn violence against journalists.  
  • H.R. 3750 – The First Responders Passport Act of 2015 would waive passport fees for first responders going abroad to assist in natural disaster responses.
  • H.R. 2241 – The Global Health Innovation Act of 2015 would direct the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to report annually to Congress on the development and use of global health innovations in USAID programs and activities
  • Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2297 – The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 would introduce additional measures to prevent Hizballah’s global logistics and financial network from operating through the targeting of funding.
  • H.R. 3878 – The Strengthening Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Coordination in Our Ports Act of 2015 would require the Department of Homeland Security to implement a risk assessment model to evaluate current and future cyber threats at U.S. ports.
  • Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2820 – The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2015 would reauthorize stem cell programs through fiscal 2020 and require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to consider including certain stem cells in the definition of “human organ.”
  • S. 1347 – The Electronic Health Fairness Act of 2015 would make several changes to Medicare. The Senate-passed version would have exempted ambulatory surgery centers from meaningful use requirements for electronic health records. The House would expand the measure to authorize a hardship exemption from the requirements for other types of facilities on a case-by-case basis for 2017. The modified measure would also bar, until after the 2019 plan year, the termination of Medicare Advantage contracts for failing to achieve a minimum quality rating under the five-star rating system. The bill would prohibit HHS from adjusting payments for wheelchair accessories until Jan. 1, 2017; extend the 2016 payment rates for radiation therapy for plan years 2017 and 2018; and deposit $3 million into the Medicare Improvement Fund.

‘This Week on the Hill’ includes updates provided by the House and Senate majority leaders, as well information derived from publications including Bloomberg Government, The Hill, Politico, Roll Call, and National Journal.