Late Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill, which included a multiemployer pension reform measure, despite lawmakers’ objections over a contentious alteration to the Dodd-Frank “swaps push-out” rule and the method of funding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
An unusual coalition of both Democratic and Republican House lawmakers voted 219-206 in favor of the bill Thursday night, sending it to the Senate, after nearly seven hours of closed-door negotiations as members of both parties debated the measure among themselves.
With a government shutdown looming Friday as current discretionary spending authority expires, House lawmakers also moved to pass a continuing resolution, authorizing a few days of temporary government funding to give the Senate time to consider the bill.
The spending bill will fund 11 of the 12 areas under Congress’ appropriations authority through the end of fiscal year 2015, with the exception of DHS, which will instead be funded on a temporary continuing resolution through the end of February.
But support from lawmakers Thursday was largely lukewarm, with House leaders only able to muster a narrow 214-212 procedural vote in its favor earlier in the day, as lawmakers expressed reservations about issues such as passing the legislation as an omnibus measure, the temporary funding given to DHS — the result of an ongoing battle between Republicans and the administration over immigration issues — and particular riders attached to the measure.
While a number of the more contentious riders that were initially expected to be in included in the bill — unofficially referred to as a cromnibus as a combination of an omnibus spending bill with the DHS continuing resolution — were removed when House and Senate appropriators earlier hammered out a compromise agreement, several such clauses were retained in the final legislation.
These included a measure allowing multiemployer pension plans to cut payments to beneficiaries in order to avoid running dry, which several lawmakers argued would help protect beneficiaries from having their pensions cut off entirely as the result of an avoidable plan bankruptcy, especially with the perilous financial state of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which backstops failed plans.
One of the pension measure’s authors, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said that such cuts could only be done in consultation between plan administrators and beneficiaries, and could not be imposed unilaterally. The rider to come in for the most criticism Thursday would significantly pare back the swaps push-out rule, a Dodd-Frank Act measure that requires banks to split off most of their derivatives trading — bar a limited subset of transactions and those used for hedging risk — into subsidiaries without federal support in the event of a failure.
The swaps push-out reform clause has also received sharp criticism from a number of senators, most prominently Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and will likely continue to be a significant sticking point as the Senate takes up the bill.