Omnibus Expected to Pass, but Will Conservatives Fall in Line?
Posted at 4:13 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2014
When the omnibus comes to the House floor on Wednesday, members won’t be asking whether the bill will pass but rather by how much.
The chances are slim that House Republicans, still fatigued from the political fallout of the government shutdown, will galvanize around bringing down the $1.1 trillion spending bill needed to fund the government through September.
“I think many of the members are resigned to the fact that we’re gonna pass an omnibus bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who opposed the October shutdown strategy. “I think a lot of our members have learned some lessons since the shutdown.”
But the measure is a proverbial landmine for hard-line conservatives, prompting many of them to make carefully calibrated choices about how they’re going to vote.
On the eve of House floor consideration of the omnibus, a number of Republicans interviewed by CQ Roll Call were still mulling their options.
For one thing, the vast majority of members only got to see the 1,582-page bill for the first time on Monday night — something of an affront from the party that promised in 2010 to shepherd a new age of unprecedented transparency into the “people’s House.”
For another, sifting through the pages reveals a litany of policy riders and provisions that could give conservatives pause. The omnibus doesn’t include new funding for the health care law, but it doesn’t defund or dismantle Obamacare, either; it maintains existing prohibitions on federal funding for abortions but doesn’t stop new insurance plans from covering those services.
And, of course, a common refrain is that the bill simply spends too much money.
Republican leaders planned to whip votes on the omnibus during two vote series on Tuesday. By the end of the first series, they felt confident they would be able to pass the measure with a strong showing from their members.
A GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that senior lawmakers expect roughly the same Republican threshold of support for the omnibus as there was for the budget deal that passed the House at the very end of 2013 — when 169 members voted “yes.”
According to the aide, the whip operation for this particular measure has been less about securing the votes necessary for passage and more about shoring up the most votes possible.
That’s exactly what Democrats are looking for.
Democrats want to ensure that as many Republicans as possible vote for the omnibus so the onus of spending $1.1 trillion is taken off Democrats. They want to avoid the refrain — particularly in an election year — that it is Democrats, not both parties, doing the spending.
One Democratic tactic to extract Republican votes that is “traditionally, you know, usually discussed,” according to Connecticut Democratic Rep. John B. Larson, is withholding Democratic votes until Republicans have provided all their “yes” votes.
“I think people are a little tired of seeing people having their cake and eating it too,” Larson said, referring to Republicans bashing spending deals but expressing happiness at their passage.
He said withholding votes would be a “wise strategy.”
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., agreed.
“We probably should wait and let them show their hand, and then we vote,” he said, noting that he wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.
“I think it’s important that they face reality and understand that the numbers under the [Paul D.] Ryan budget just are insufficient to fund this government. They should fess up to it, and own up to it, and be man and woman enough to cast a vote that represents a compromise,” Johnson said.
“I know that compromise is a bad word — consensus-building is probably better — but whatever you want to call it, these are times that demand that we stop playing politics and start dealing seriously and earnestly with the nation’s issues, with the nation’s challenges,” he added.
But plenty of Republicans think their party will deliver votes, even if Democrats don’t employ the tactic.
“I think we would, frankly, be weakened if we didn’t deliver the majority of support towards something our leadership supported and our chairman had negotiated,” said senior appropriator and Budget conferee Tom Cole, R-Okla. “This is a negotiated deal, it’s got the blessing of the leadership, and I think [Appropriations Chairman Harold] Rogers did a great job, and so it deserves the majority support.”
The GOP leadership aide with knowledge of the omnibus whip operation said there were two major reasons for members to vote for the bill: It gets Congress back to regular order and it brings down discretionary spending to George W. Bush-era levels.
Of course, for some House Republicans — mainly those from the classes of 2010 and 2012 who align themselves with the tea party — there’s no amount of reasoning that will get them to vote “yes.”
“This is the Republican Conference,” Cole said with a laugh. “I’m not sure if you can whip as hard as you would want. Some of these guys, they’re pretty independent thinkers.”
But some members indicated they were willing to compromise at this juncture, whereas before they might have held their noses.
“I’m not thrilled, but it’s not a good idea to reject [the omnibus] and then be facing another government shutdown in the process,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss.
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., also said he wasn’t going to vote “no” just because all of his pet projects weren’t included as policy riders.
“Where I’m really trying to set my expectations is to get this regular order back on track so we can bring the appropriations bills one by one, so I can add on all of my riders one by one,” said Woodall. “We have the votes in the House to do it if we get the process back on track.”
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.