Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Ryan Tells Members That Spending Deal Is Reached

 The House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, told rank-and-file Republicans late Tuesday that he had clinched a deal with Democrats on a $1.1 trillion spending bill and a huge package of tax breaks. While Democrats pointedly declined to confirm that there was an agreement, there was little doubt that a deal would ultimately be reached.

Legislative drafters raced to meet a midnight deadline that would allow Mr. Ryan to keep on schedule for a vote Thursday on the House floor. By 11:45 p.m., the text of the legislation had yet to be made public, and some lawmakers were already complaining that they would not have enough time to review it before being asked to vote.

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The late-hour tension underscored the deep disagreements over an array of policy provisions that have left weeks of negotiations tinged with acrimony. Since the Republicans took back control of the House in 2011, a majority in the party has routinely opposed budget and spending measures, forcing party leaders to rely on Democrats for votes to clear the bills. All signs indicate that the same dynamic is playing out now.

But the House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, has voiced angry opposition to the huge package of tax breaks, saying it would unfairly benefit big business. And even Tuesday night, some Democrats in the House leadership said Ms. Pelosi was on the verge of turning against the omnibus spending measure because of her opposition to a Republican provision that would lift the 40-year-old ban on exports of crude oil from the United States.

Throughout Tuesday, major components of the legislation appeared to be falling into place, including a tentative agreement to alter major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, delaying a planned tax on high-cost health insurance plans and suspending a tax on medical devices for two years.

Lawmakers also said the package would include the reauthorization and expansion of aid for emergency workers suffering from ailments related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Mr. Ryan has gained momentum in his early weeks as speaker, clearing a major highway bill and an important education measure. But the omnibus spending bill, needed to keep the government functioning, presented a particular challenge given the Obama administration’s opposition to numerous policy prescriptions that Republicans wanted to attach to the must-pass bill.

Indeed, there were indications late Tuesday that Mr. Ryan and Republicans had been forced to give substantial ground, and that the spending measure would not include provisions tightening restrictions on Syrian and Iraqi refugees. A stand-alone measure to tighten those restrictions passed overwhelmingly in the House, but the White House and Senate Democrats said they would block it.

And while Mr. Ryan has won plaudits from his rank and file for running a more inclusive House, the late-hour rush to finish the spending deal seemed likely to test him on that front.

Some Republicans complained that they would be forced to make a decision on the huge spending and tax package with less than 48 hours to read and digest it, despite a party rule requiring three days for legislation to be reviewed before a vote.

“A few thousand pages of legislation will be unveiled late tonight,” Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, wrote on Twitter. “At 10 a.m. tomorrow, leadership will ask us how we're voting. #Congress”

Republican congressional leaders and the White House reached a budget accord in late October that set top-line spending levels for 2016 and 2017.

The question of delaying important provisions of the Affordable Care Act provided a surprising area of common ground — among Republicans who have sought to dismantle President Obama’s signature health care law, and Democrats who had reservations about a tax on generous health plans. The White House and many economists have defended the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans as a way to reduce health costs and make the health care system more efficient.

But lawmakers said they had tentatively agreed to delay the tax, originally scheduled to take effect in 2018, by two years. Labor unions strenuously opposed the tax, saying it could lead to reductions in health benefits prized by their members.

Republicans said the package would delay what they see as harmful health-related taxes and could set a precedent for efforts to undo other provisions of the health care law.

“We have a real opportunity to significantly reduce Obamacare’s tax burdens,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Finance Committee.

It also appeared that manufacturers of medical devices were on the threshold of a victory in their campaign to roll back an excise tax on many of their products. Under the tentative agreement, the device tax, which took effect in 2013, would be suspended in 2016 and 2017, congressional aides said.

Republicans said the device tax discouraged the development and sales of innovative, lifesaving medical technology. Some Democrats from states with thriving medical technology companies agreed. The tax package also includes a one-year delay in a separate annual fee on health insurance providers, one of a number of taxes that help offset the costs of expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The emerging agreement would permanently extend a popular business tax credit for research, one of many tax breaks that have been repeatedly renewed on a temporary basis. It would also continue a tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money for books, supplies and computer equipment used in the classroom, and a separate deduction for state and local sales taxes.

There had been widespread support for a stand-alone measure to help the 9/11 responders, but congressional leaders were never quite able to push it across the finish line. While lawmakers from the New York area were strong advocates for the bill, it also had the forceful backing of Jon Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” who made repeated trips to the Capitol to push for it.

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