Congress Passes Measure Avoiding U.S. Government Shutdown

  • Measure funds government through Dec. 16 as talks continue
  • Appropriations chairman says negotiations at `snail's pace'

The House voted for a stopgap measure on Friday that avoids a potential U.S. government shutdown this weekend, as talks continue on a $1.1 trillion spending plan and a separate measure to revive dozens of tax breaks.

The House passed the temporary spending bill by voice vote, and President Barack Obama signed it hours before current funding was set to expire at midnight. The Senate voted a day earlier for the measure, which finances the government through Dec. 16.

“Negotiations are at a snail’s pace. Glacial, in fact,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters. He said dozens of disputes remain, and it’s unlikely he will be able to release the text of a bill before Monday.

"Everyone wants to tack something onto this bill," Rogers said. Lawmakers are aiming to leave Washington for the holidays by Dec. 18.

Congress and the White House are negotiating over a list of policy changes that Republicans insist on adding to the spending bill, including lifting a 40-year-old ban on the export of most U.S. crude oil and blocking Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S.

Lawmakers are negotiating the spending measure simultaneously with another plan that would extend several dozen expired tax breaks. Lawmakers are using horse-trading on the tax legislation to help reach a compromise on the spending measure.

‘Unpaid-For Tax Breaks’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, criticized the emerging tax-extender package Friday as "hundreds of billions of dollars of permanent, unpaid-for tax breaks."

"This is not the right way to go," she said.

Pelosi said the plan’s tax benefits are too heavily weighted toward corporations, including by lifting the ban on crude oil exports without indexing the Child Tax Credit to keep up with inflation, as Democrats want.

"But they have the majority and this is their vehicle," she said, referring to the Republican House majority. "I wouldn’t vote for it, and wouldn’t recommend anybody do that."

On Thursday, Pelosi predicted that Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass the spending measure, “so they will have to come to terms to do this.”

2013 Shutdown

With the 2016 election nearing, Republicans want to avoid a repeat of the 16-day federal government shutdown in 2013 that hurt their standing in public opinion polls.

On the tax extensions, Republicans are pushing to make a number of business incentives permanent. Those include the business research and development tax credit, and a break that allows small businesses to take a larger depreciation allowance for an asset’s value during the first year after purchase.

Democrats, meanwhile, seek a permanent extension of the current Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the college-tuition tax credit, which are set to expire at the end of 2017. The tuition tax credit provides as much as $2,500 per student for people with adjusted gross incomes as high as $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for families.

Sales Tax Deduction

Among other items awaiting renewal is a sales tax deduction that’s popular in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming because those states don’t tax income.

Some Democrats want at least a 10-year extension of wind and solar tax breaks in exchange for lifting the ban on U.S. crude oil exports as part of the spending bill, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Wednesday.

Also at issue is whether the spending bill will include a Republican proposal, opposed by Democrats, to block Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S., as well as a plan backed by both parties to tighten the visa waiver program, which eases travel to the U.S. for some 20 million people a year. Both issues became priorities following terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November and 14 in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.

A proposal backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, would end restrictions on how much political parties may spend on behalf of candidates.

The stopgap spending bill is H.R. 2250.

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