But after years of passing massive omnibus spending bills, often at the last minute, like the $1.1 trillion package they passed last month, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say they’re up to the task. Democrats have said that they are on board as well, giving Republican leaders some hope.
Mark Murray, a former House Appropriations Committee staffer and now the vice president of Cornerstone Government Affairs, is skeptical. “This is, after all, the season of optimism, the beginning of the year, goodwill and so forth,” Murray said Tuesday. Like a Jan. 1 vow to hit the gym, Congress’s current optimism may not last through the year. Here are some of the major hurdles they’ll face in the process.
1. It hasn’t been done in more than 20 years. Congress hasn’t passed all 12 appropriations spending bills through both the House and Senate since 1994, when Democrats controlled both chambers, President Bill Clinton was in the White House, and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s beloved flip phones were advanced technology.
Since then, Congress has typically been able to agree to five or six appropriations bills on less contentious issues, like funding the Defense Department, lumping the rest of the government’s funding into a last-minute omnibus package. At worst, as has been the case in recent Congresses, they haven’t passed any.
2. “Problem child” appropriations bills. Every year, members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees find themselves at loggerheads over a few of the most controversial bills—“problem child” bills, as Murray, calls them. These include funding bills for the Labor Department and Health and Human Services Department; the State Department and foreign operations; the Homeland Security Department; and the IRS and the White House (which fall under the umbrella of the Financial Services subcommittee).
Those bills are difficult to pass through one chamber, much less both of them, in an average year (see point 1, above). But in a presidential-election year focused on the economy and taxation, the fight against ISIS, immigration, and refugees from Syria, not to mention health care, all of these bills will be breeding grounds for political fights.
3. Obamacare. House Republicans spent their first week of 2016 in Washington sending a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act to President Obama’s desk, a move that will certainly earn a presidential veto but has nonetheless been a major ideological victory for the Republican Congress. Given Congress’s recent tendency to pass massive omnibus bills just before a deadline for a government shutdown, Republicans have largely left the health care law alone in the appropriations process, proposing only changes that have some bipartisan support.
But if members are given the opportunity to pass a separate Labor/Health and Human Services bill this year, one that could be vetoed without threatening a shutdown, appropriations-watchers expect that taking down at least some parts of Obamacare in the process could be a top priority for the GOP. That’s certainly going to raise some feathers among Democrats. And while Republicans could have the numbers to get an Obamacare repeal or change through committee, and potentially through the House, they’ll need to get five Democratic votes in the Senate to send that bill anywhere.