Ryan said early in the process that he would defer to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers. And although members and staff said committee chairs were more involved in the process than in recent years, Republican members and aides also said Pelosi did not allow the committee latitude to make the ultimate decisions, in essence forcing Ryan to the table. (Democrats dispute the notion that Pelosi wouldn't empower her appropriators to negotiate.)
It is no surprise that Pelosi would rather sit across the table from Ryan. Democrats see him as an inexperienced partisan, and members believe much of the back-and-forth originated with Pelosi, who has led Democrats for more than a decade, testing her new adversary.
“We have confidence in Mrs. Pelosi and her negotiating skills, which we have found through the years to be very good,” Pelosi’s No. 2, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, said. “Mr. Ryan is new at this process, in many ways. He's done a budget, but a budget is essentially a partisan document. You don't expect to get any votes from the other side, so it's not really an analogous process.”
Yet as the Friday vote on the omnibus neared, it became clear that Ryan and Republicans were not the only ones clamoring for a more inclusive House. While Democratic leadership and most of the rank-and-file remain uncommitted on the omnibus, complaints were already emerging about the top-down nature of the negotiations.
“Most [Congressional Black Caucus] members are opposed to the omnibus and the tax extenders, for the very simple reason that we were not included substantially in the negotiations,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who chairs the CBC and its 40-plus members. “The deal does not address poverty in a significant way, and it ignores many other priorities that the CBC has advocated for for many years.”
Pelosi met Wednesday afternoon with the Tri-Caucus, which is made up of the CBC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Asian Pacific American Caucus. A Democratic aide emphasized that leadership has not has not yet taken a stance on the omnibus nor is it whipping members—and characterized the meeting as an informational exchange. Pelosi also met with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the aide said.
Another staffer who was in the meeting noted that the Hispanic Caucus has been pushing for a provision to help Puerto Rico restructure its debt, and raised that issue in the gathering. Pelosi has also criticized Republicans for not including that in the omnibus; Ryan said Wednesday he wants to make Puerto Rico’s debt a priority when Congress returns next year.
Even before the omnibus was released, Pelosi faced pressures from her own caucus members, some of whom have been frustrated at handing the GOP small policy victories with each funding negotiation. That is in large part why Pelosi, who for years sat on the appropriations committee, made it her mission to keep the omnibus bill free of the most controversial riders, such as ones that would target environmental and financial regulations and Planned Parenthood, and add hurdles to Syrian refugees coming to this country. The absence of the latter measure came much to the consternation of some Republicans who wanted to push the issue with President Obama.