Senate Reaches Deal On Compromise $40B DHS Bill

The U.S. Senate today voted to begin official debate on a “clean” $39.7 billion U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding bill, after Senate leaders agreed to strip out a clause blocking funding for certain contentious immigration-related executive actions that had led to a filibuster.

Senators voted 98-2 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 240, after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reached a deal to take separate votes on DHS funding and the disputed executive actions that President Barack Obama announced on Nov. 20.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives in mid-January, had stalled amid a Democratic filibuster, blocked from proceeding to official debate in four separate votes.

After the fourth failed vote, on Monday, McConnell indicated he would seek a different approach, saying he would move to consider separate legislation condemning the president’s executive actions, which Republican lawmakers have claimed is an unconstitutional overreach of his executive powers.

The majority leader did not explicitly state at the time that he would accompany that immigration funding bill with a “clean” DHS funding bill but eventually acquiesced on Wednesday, hashing out a deal with Reid to amend the bill to strip out the disputed clause in order to win Democratic support.

The Senate Republican caucus largely supported their leader on Wednesday, with only Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., voting against the motion to proceed. Assuming the bill passes the Senate, it will need to pass the House again in its amended form, which could have a tougher time, given vocal public opposition from a number of House Republicans to any alteration to the legislation.

The DHS, as the parent agency of subagencies including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was the sole agency not to get full-year fiscal 2015 funding in last year’s “cromnibus” appropriations bill, amid the immigration dispute.

Under the president’s disputed executive actions, estimated to cover about 4.4 million undocumented immigrants, certain unlawful immigrants who are the parents of lawful residents would be granted temporary deportation amnesty and limited work privileges, after passing a necessary background check.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which covers certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, would also be expanded by removing its age cap and lengthening a deportation deferral under the program to three years.

Senate Passes $1.1T Spending Bill

The U.S. Senate on Saturday passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for 2015, averting the closure of some parts of the government despite significant pushback against a contentious measure repealing much of the Dodd-Frank Act’s “swaps push-out” rule.

Senators voted 56-40 in favor of the bill late Saturday after a contentious day, sending it on to President Barack Obama — who previously signaled that he would sign it into law — and ending the threat of a “government shutdown” for a second year in a row.

On the Senate floor, some lawmakers urged their colleagues to vote for the bill so as to avert a “damaging” government shutdown, often while simultaneously criticizing various provisions in the legislation — including multiemployer pension plan reforms, cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and a clause loosening election campaign contribution limits.

The most contentious of those provisions was a clause meant to significantly pare back the swaps push-out rule, a Dodd-Frank Act measure that requires banks to split off most of their derivatives trading — except for some limited types of such transactions and derivatives deals used for hedging risk — into subsidiaries that can’t draw on federal support in the event of a failure.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had been the most prominent of these critics, and she continued to rail against the bill on the Senate floor Friday.

The measure, which Warren alleged had been drafted by Citigroup Inc. lobbyists, was an example of Citi’s “unprecedented” grip on financial policymaking through both lobbying and its ties to officials in the White House, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve and other federal agencies, she argued, sharply criticizing the banking giant.

The swaps push-out provision had been similarly contentious for House lawmakers, serving as the main sticking point that held up the bill’s passage Thursday, with supporters and opponents in both parties laying out their reasons — behind closed doors — for more than seven hours after the floor debate ended.

House leaders ultimately reconvened the lawmakers at around 9 p.m., and the legislation narrowly passed in a 219-206 vote with the support of an unusual coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers. That was followed by a temporary continuing resolution, or CR, giving the Senate time to consider the bill without government funding authority expiring.

The spending bill has been unofficially dubbed the “cromnibus,” as an omnibus combination of 11 out of 12 regular appropriations bills normally considered by Congress each year, alongside a CR funding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through February, amid an immigration dispute between Republican lawmakers and the administration.

The bill provides for a total of $1.1 trillion in spending for fiscal year 2015, including $1.014 trillion in baseline discretionary spending — in line with an earlier budget agreement for 2014 and 2015 — as well as nearly $74 billion in so-called overseas contingency operations funding for the U.S. departments of Defense and State and about $12 billion in combined disaster and Ebola crisis aid.

Among the broad range of areas covered by the bill, the federal judiciary will get a boost, with federal courts receiving $6.7 billion, or $182 million more than in 2014. Financial enforcement agencies will also see increased budgets, with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission up $150 million to $1.5 billion — although its $25 million “reserve fund” has been eliminated — and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission up $35 million to $250 million.

Several agencies have lost out, however, even with a slightly increased top line over the $1.012 trillion allowed for fiscal year 2014. The Internal Revenue Service, for instance, will receive $10.9 billion for fiscal 2015, a cut of nearly $346 million, as well as explicit restrictions on what it can do with its funding, in response to controversies that have plagued the agency over the past few years.

The EPA will receive a $60 million cut, with a total budget of $8.1 billion, and be subject to restrictions on aspects of its oversight authority, amid Republican lawmakers’ complaints concerning alleged regulatory overreach.

HOUSE NARROWLY PASSES $1.1T SPENDING BILL

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.

House Panel Releases $1.1T Federal Funding Bill

House Panel Releases $1.1T Federal Funding Bill

Late Tuesday night the House Appropriations Committee released a nearly $1.1 trillion omnibus 2015 spending bill, pulling out contentious terrorism insurance and environmental riders while setting up debate over U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding for early in the new year amid an ongoing immigration dispute.

The bill — unofficially referred to by lawmakers as a “cromnibus,” -combining omnibus spending – and temporary continuing resolution — will come up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as Thursday, the day current federal discretionary spending authority expires, moving Congress closer to avoiding a repeat of the 16-day government shutdown in October last year.

They urged their colleagues to take up and pass the bill “as soon as possible,” touting its compromise nature and the need to provide the certainty of a “continuously functioning and responsible government.”

The bill, which will still need Senate approval if it passes the House, as expected, combines 11 of 12 annual appropriations measures, covering most federal agencies, extending their funding through to the end of fiscal year 2015 at the $1.014 trillion overall spending level agreed to in a previous bipartisan budget agreement.

It will also provide $64 billion to $74 billion in overseas contingency operations funding — the figure varies between Senate and House summaries of the bill — meant to help combat the Islamic State group and other overseas threats, and an additional $5.4 billion to address the emerging Ebola crisis, both domestically and abroad, in addition to $6.4 billion in other disaster aid.

The sole exception is the DHS, which will receive only a continuing resolution through to Feb. 27, allowing for further debate over the agency’s 2015 budget after the Republican Party takes over the Senate majority in January with the new Congress.

The move is aimed particularly at the budget for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a sub-agency of the DHS, amid a heated debate between Republican lawmakers and the administration of President Barack Obama over ongoing immigration enforcement efforts, recently inflamed by an Obama executive action allowing certain undocumented immigrants with children to remain in the U.S., among other immigration enforcement changes, issued on Nov. 20.

The bill had originally been expected to pass out of committee late Monday, giving Congress some breathing room ahead of a looming government shutdown on Friday, but a number of sticking points among legislators regarding certain riders on the bill held up its passage out of committee.

 

While many such clauses remain in the final bill, for instance blocking funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue further rules to place sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List and amending certain Dodd-Frank Act “swaps pushout” requirements, some of the more contentious riders were scrapped.

These include suggested measures to defund the implementation of certain U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, as well as a rider seeking to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, brought into dispute by a Republican bid to include alterations to certain Dodd-Frank provisions covering certain end-user derivatives transactions, which were spun off into a separate measure.

Prior to agreeing to the cromnibus, Congress last passed a spending bill in September, a stopgap measure extending funding past the midterm elections in November and through to Dec. 11. Lawmakers may also pass a short-term continuing resolution this week to give them several days of breathing room, in order to lock down Tuesday’s longer-term measure.