GOP seeks to concessions on environment

Posted at 4:04 PM, Dec 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-07 16:04:40-05

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans are pressing for an end to the four-decade ban on exporting crude oil and further curbs on President Barack Obama's environmental agenda as part of a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill.

Days from a Friday midnight deadline, progress has proven elusive for negotiators who also are trying to hammer out a separate measure to renew dozen of expired tax breaks. The two bills are the major item of unfinished business for this session of Congress.

While the GOP is seeking concessions from the Obama administration and Democrats on the environment, Republicans have dropped demands to cut off federal funds for Planned Parenthood and for implementing Obama's marquee health care law.

The spending bill would fill out the details of the October budget deal and fund the day-to-day operating budgets of every Cabinet agency, averting a partial government shutdown. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Monday that Congress may miss the deadline to complete the bill and renew a growing package of tax breaks for both businesses and individuals.

"It might take us more than just this week to get these issues put together correctly," Ryan told a radio station Janesville, Wisconsin, after negotiations over the weekend failed to close out numerous unresolved items.

A short-term funding bill may be necessary, and the White House indicated on Monday that Obama won't sign such legislation unless a long-term bill is in sight.

The spending and tax bills' fates have become intertwined as part of a single negotiation among top leaders like Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and top Democrats Harry Reid of Nevada and Nancy Pelosi of California.

The tax measure would renew dozens of tax breaks that typically are renewed only a year or two at a time. This year, both sides are working to make some of them permanent, which is proving tricky to do. Democrats hope to use repeal of the oil export ban as a bargaining chip, congressional aides said.

Most of the spending items in the so-called omnibus appropriations bills have been worked out, but numerous difficult policy provisions remain, including a GOP bid to block new emissions rules for power plants and an effort to restrict Obama's ability to declare national monuments in his final year in office.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, urged party leaders to hold firm against policy "riders" that would weaken new Dodd-Frank rules aimed at protecting consumers of financial services and preventing a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

"If Republicans want to hold the American economy hostage for the benefit of special interests on Wall Street, that's a fight all Democrats should be ready to wage and win," Clinton said in a statement.

Republicans have abandoned contentious provisions such as one that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood after secretly recorded videos that raised questions about the organization's practices in supplying tissue from aborted fetuses to medical researchers.

The question of pausing the processing of Syrian and Iraqi refugees after last month attacks in Paris was part of the talks, though much of the focus was on a bipartisan effort to tighten a program allowing millions of foreigners to enter the U.S. without a visa.

The spending bill gives generous increases to the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. A budget increase for NASA enjoys broad bipartisan support, while Republicans insisted on curbing the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.

A key complication involves a GOP plan to lift the ban on exporting U.S. oil overseas. Democrats have shown a willingness to go along but are seeking concessions in the form of tax breaks for renewable energy sources such as solar, wind power, and geothermal.

"If the Congress fails to finish our business by Dec. 11, it will be because Republicans continue to insist on extraneous poison pill riders," Reid said.

On the tax side, the cost of the package has swelled as both sides press to make pet provisions permanent law, including a research and development tax credit favored by the high-tech industry.

There's also bipartisan support for permanently extending a tax break allowing those in a state without an income tax to deduct their state and local sales taxes. Democrats want income eligibility categories for the child tax credit to be automatically indexed for inflation and comparable treatment for tax credits for college tuition and child care.

There's also support among Democrats and Republicans for a two-year delay in implementation of a 40 percent excise tax on higher premium health insurance plans, a key pillar of Obama's 2010 health care law that is strongly opposed by his labor union allies. Another proposal would suspend a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices.