House Republicans are projecting confidence they'll be able to pass a massive spending bill to keep the government afloat, but simmering discontent over numerous provisions is setting up a difficult test vote Thursday that threatens to derail the entire package.
Opposition has steadily built since the Tuesday night unveiling of a spending bill that would keep the government funded through the fall, narrowing the already tight window that party whips have to round up support for the must-pass legislation. House Republican aides estimated that as many as 70 GOP lawmakers would vote against final passage of the so-called CROmnibus, mostly driven by discontent that the bill does not directly attempt to block President Obama's executive action that will grant work visas to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
A vote on the rules for debate Thursday morning could presage how much trouble party whips will have corralling the votes to pass the omnibus, with one GOP whip projecting at least 20 defections from the conference and little help from Democrats lifting the rule to passage. House Republicans are predicting floor action—including a vote on a three-day continuing resolution to keep the government open through the weekend—will be finished by early afternoon.
The measure is loaded with dozens of policy riders, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling on Republicans to remove two particular sections of the bill that she said are destructive and will jeopardize Democratic support.
Tucked into the omnibus is a provision that would loosen campaign finance rules by allowing bigger donations to party committees and another that would soften the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill.
"These provisions are destructive to middle-class families and to the practice of our democracy. We must get them out of the omnibus package," Pelosi said in a statement.
The Dodd-Frank provision—which would overturn a rule making it more difficult for banks to use federally guaranteed funds for certain derivatives trading—is also alienating some Republicans. It has infuriated members of the House Agriculture Committee, who say they were not consulted about the bill at all even though the provision falls under their panel's purview.
Although incoming Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway supports the provision, he said he is dismayed that leadership never discussed the issue with him before including it in the spending package. He said he planned to meet with leadership Wednesday, but was considering voting against the package.
"To be determined," he said, when asked how he would vote. "I'm having conversations right now with folks about it."
Conaway's Democratic counterpart, Rep. Colin Peterson, on the other hand, said he will definitely vote against the bill. That could be a blow to Republican leaders, who often rely on Peterson and his fellow conservative Democratic Blue Dogs to put up votes when they are having trouble in their own conference.
"This is our jurisdiction. You know, they never even talked to us. Nobody even told us," Peterson said. "If they're going to operate like that, they can do it on their own. I hope it goes down. I'll stay here as long as I have to to fix it."
Those comments come as some other high-profile Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have started turning their backs on the bipartisan legislation. Democratic votes will be needed to pass the bill, as dozens of House Republicans are unhappy that it punts any challenge to Obama's immigration executive order into next year. (The measure funds the Homeland Security Department only through February, so the GOP could plan an immigration standoff then.)
House Speaker John Boehner, however, defended the bill at a press conference Wednesday.
"Understand, all these provisions in the bill have been worked out in a bicameral, bipartisan fashion, or else they wouldn't be in the bill," he said.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel expanded on the speaker's comments Wednesday afternoon, taking Pelosi to task.
"If Rep. Pelosi doesn't think her negotiators did a good job, she should discuss it with them—but sour grapes doesn't mean she gets to rewrite the deal after the fact," he said.
Obama, meanwhile, has not yet signaled whether he would sign the measure. At the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged that "this is a compromise proposal. Democrats and Republicans have signed onto it. And ... I'm confident that there are going to be some things in here that we're not going to like. And so we'll have to sort of consider, you know, the whole package before we make a decision about whether or not to sign it. So we'll keep you posted on that."
Warren and Rep. Maxine Waters of California held a joint press conference on Wednesday, urging House Democrats to vote against the omnibus as long as it includes the Dodd-Frank provision. Waters, who called the move "unconscionable," noted that if House Republicans need Democrats to join them in passing the omnibus, she and her colleagues would have significant "leverage" to remove the provision from the underlying bill.
Both Democrats expressed shock that the measure had made it through the Appropriations Committee process. "I want to find out from, I'm sorry, Ms. Mikulski on Appropriations—why did this get in?" Waters said in a reference to the Senate panel's chairwoman, Barbara Mikulski.
Waters and Pelosi both urged their fellow California Democrats to oppose the bill at a delegation meeting Wednesday.
Democratic appropriators have argued that Republicans floated many worse provisions affecting Dodd-Frank and other Democratic programs, the majority of which they were able to keep out of the omnibus. The final omnibus may not be perfect, they argue, but it's better than it could have been.
Warren said she understood the nature of compromise, but she argued that the swaps provision was too much to swallow. "They've gone too far. This is just one step too far. And we can't pass an omnibus with this provision in it," she said.
Ultimately, though, Warren stopped short of saying she would hold up the bill in the Senate if the omnibus makes it through the House as is. "I am opposed to this, I've already been to the Senate floor [to speak] on this, I will be back on the Senate floor about this," Warren said. "The House has the opportunity here to say no."
House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen said Wednesday he will also vote against the bill, partly because of the campaign finance provision, which would allow big donors to make maximum donations to several different accounts established by the same party committee and thus significantly raise the overall ceiling for what an individual donor can give.
Meanwhile, Rep. David Price, ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said he is inclined to vote against the bill as well, mostly because it extends funding for DHS only into February, but also because of the two riders.
"I think it's very damaging. I think it's a poor way for us to do business as appropriators," he said. "The substance is bad, and the process is worse. That's enough to tip my vote."
Party liberals are also concerned. "If the language of this bill does not change, the Congressional Progressive Caucus will oppose it," said a source within the group.
Rachel Roubein and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.