In convincing bipartisan votes, the House and Senate have passed an omnibus to keep the government funded and a massive package of tax-break extensions, wrapping up a tumultuous year with a deal that left neither Republicans nor Democrats gloating.
Having already passed the tax measure, the House approved the omnibus package Friday on a 316-113 vote, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats in the "aye" column. The Senate then cleared the two measures together on a 65-33 tally. President Obama plans to sign the entire package.
Both Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were hesitant to claim victory in the deal, due to hard-liners in both parties who are dissatisfied with its provisions—or some that got left out. The biggest sticking point for Republicans is that the bill did nothing to block the flow of refugees coming from Syria, which they view as a national security concern. The bill likewise does nothing to target Planned Parenthood, another GOP priority.
In addition, many on the right are upset that the omnibus raises spending from earlier sequestration levels, though the funding numbers are the product of a budget deal passed by former Speaker John Boehner with the support of only 79 Republicans. Ryan maintains he was locked into those spending figures, and his caucus seems inclined to give him a pass.
On the Democratic side, many were concerned the omnibus lifted the ban on crude-oil exports, a provision Pelosi called her “big torment” as she made her decision. (Still, Pelosi and the Obama administration made the case that the overall package, when combined with the tax extenders legislation, was a win for the environment.) The omnibus also did nothing to address the Puerto Rican debt crisis, something many Democrats had pushed for.
Pelosi ultimately supported the bill, but she faced an unusual amount of backlash from a caucus that has historically followed her marching orders. Several Democratic minority caucuses, as well as progressives, claimed they and their priorities were not heard in negotiations. Leading up to the vote, the Democratic majority that has so often been needed to pass funding bills was still in doubt.
The backlash carries implications for 2016, as Republicans expect more wins from their new speaker and Democrats try to convince their own leadership to stop making concessions to the GOP. For now, both leaders will be happy to take the narrow victory and head home for the holidays.
“This is a really big win for Speaker Ryan and the new approach that he’s laid out,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise said after the vote. “Sixty percent of our conference voted for this bill, which is historic, and it really puts us in a strong position next year to have more leverage for the fights that will start very early in the new year.”
The vote is a drastic turnaround from not only last month, when just 79 Republicans supported a bipartisan budget deal setting up the omnibus, but also from Thursday, when several groups of members were threatening to vote against the bill because it did not achieve their priorities. For instance, members looking to roll back coal regulations and other environmental rules were frustrated by the few wins to that aim. But leaders reassured them they would continue those fights next year.
"We saw a lot of members coming to that point today where they realized it strengthens our team if they vote for bills that they think need to pass," Scalise said. "We had some important wins in this bill. There are other battles we're going to fight on next year that weren't in this bill, but we have a commitment from the speaker to bring those to the floor and to have a strengthened hand when we bring those to the floor."
Leaders, including Ryan, met throughout the day with groups such as the Western Caucus and the Georgia and Texas delegations to smooth individual issues. And leaders spent the rest of the evening until about 1 a.m. calling and texting members to make sure they would support the omnibus, Scalise said.
In addition to reassurances on pet issues, members were convinced by Senate assurances. Ryan told members that Minority Leader Harry Reid pledged not to block appropriations bills without cause next year, pledging members a return to regular order. And Scalise handed out to members a letter from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising that the leader would bring up sought after legislation enforcing tougher immigration restrictions on Syrian refugees.
For all the blowback and uncertainty among their ranks Thursday, House Democratic leaders said after the vote they had been hoodwinking the GOP all along. "We wanted this bill to be bipartisan, so we didn't brag too much about what was in it too soon to lose the Republican votes," said Pelosi, calling it the "best possible under the circumstances."
Rep. Steve Israel, the Democrats' messaging chief and a Pelosi loyalist, added: "We began with a bill that had all the bad stuff in and all the good stuff out, and we ended up with a bill today that has all the good stuff in and most of the bad stuff out. That's the definition of victory."
Hoyer asserted that Democrats got "90 percent" of what they wanted. Even many of the bill's biggest detractors seemed to have been assuaged. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, Judy Chu, and Linda Sanchez, who chair the three minority caucuses that confronted Pelosi earlier this week about being left out of negotiations, all voted in favor of the bill. Pelosi and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn were heard noting after the press conference that 39 of the 44 Congressional Black Caucus members voted for the bill.
This came a day after Pelosi responded with a flat "no" when asked if she was confident her caucus would get the omnibus through. Likewise, Hoyer had been reticent to estimate the vote total, and members of his whip team reported an overwhelming number of undecided members. Ultimately, though, most Democrats got on board.
Key to the Democratic support was an extension of tax credits for renewable energy, which Pelosi said offsets by more than 10 times the emissions caused by the crude-oil provision. Meanwhile, representatives from New York took a victory lap on the reauthorization of healthcare funding for 9/11 first responders.
And leaders were keen to point out all the GOP riders they had kept out of the bill, including Planned Parenthood and Syrian-refugee amendments. Pelosi characterized Republicans' biggest win, the crude-oil provision, as a worthy sacrifice to avoid concessions elsewhere. "The Republicans' obsession with lifting the oil export ban—they really gave away the store," she said. "Democrats were able to strip scores and score of poison pills."
Pelosi's allies praised that strategy. "I've never witnessed the Democratic leadership exploit more effectively the leverage that they had," said Rep. Joe Crowley, vice chair of the Democratic Caucus.
Rep. Donna Edwards said she had been leaning no even Friday morning, but leadership's explanation of the bill—particularly its benefits for CBC communities—changed her vote. "It became incredibly clear that this list of wins outweighs the list of negatives," she said.
The 2,000-plus page tax and spending package touches on nearly every aspect of American life. The earned-income, child, and college-tuition tax breaks were made permanent, as were those for research and development, mass transit commuters, and for residents who live in state-income-tax-free places such as Nevada and Texas, who want to deduct sales taxes from their federal returns. The package will benefit large corporations keen on deferring certain income earned overseas and small businesses, which can now indefinitely expense up to $500,000 of equipment.
The deal will make the most significant changes to Obamacare since it passed, in part by removing important ways in which it was paid for. It’ll benefit unions and large employers by delaying for another two years the so-called Cadillac Tax on the most expensive health care plans. It’ll put off a way to pay for the landmark health care bill by suspending for two years a tax on the medical device industry. And it’ll stabilize premiums in the near term by suspending a health insurance tax for a year, after Republicans succeeded in blocking taxpayer funding for a program that would shore up insurers from losses.
The deal is chock-full with goodies, benefiting those near and dear to Republican and Democratic lawmakers, from Sen. Chuck Schumer’s New York apple cider producers to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky racehorses, according to the The New York Times. Even those Alaskans wary of genetically modified salmon—also known as Frankenfish—can find comfort; their sale was blocked until federal labeling guidelines are finished due to the work of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, according to the Associated Press.
Before the Senate vote, the members debated, with some touting the tax breaks for families and low-income workers, while others noted the $622 billion hole that Congress will add to the deficit in the coming years.
Noting Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation," Sen. Joe Manchin said on the Senate floor Friday, "We're going to be the worst generation by saddling this debt to our grandchildren."
Then Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, took to the floor and countered. "This bipartisan package is the biggest tax cut for working families and the biggest antipoverty plan Congress has moved forward in decades—and it is the biggest tax agreement in 15 years," he said.
Sens. Barbara Boxer and Marco Rubio were the only members to miss the Senate's votes Friday to pass the omnibus and tax bills, the chamber's final votes for the year. (Boxer's office said she had an "unavoidable scheduling conflict" but offered to return to Washington if her vote was needed.) Rubio, who has been criticized by his Republican presidential opponents for missing more votes than any other candidate this year, campaigned this week in Iowa ahead of an event scheduled in Joplin, Missouri, this afternoon.
Rubio told Fox News on Thursday that he strongly opposed the omnibus, particularly because of its cost and its failure to deal with the Syrian-refugee crisis. But he argued that members could "slow it down," potentially forcing members to stay in Washington long enough to earn some concessions on conservative priorities.
"We can most certainly slow down this process and force them to go back and make changes to it. There is no doubt that we can and we should and will," Rubio told Fox News. "There is an effort with many conservatives in the Senate and in the House to make it happen. You can slow this down. There is a way to do it. I think the question is whether the willingness is there. ... We should use every procedural aspect that we have to slow it down and perhaps force some changes."
Rubio's appearance on the conservative news channel came on the same day that Senate leadership announced a unanimous agreement of all senators to move forward with a quick series of four votes on the omnibus and tax packages on Friday. Rubio spent the day in Iowa Thursday and missed those votes Friday morning.
This article has been updated.