this Nov. 19, 2015 photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of
Wis. calls on a reporter during a news briefing on
Capitol Hill in Washington. Lawmakers return to
Washington for an end-of-session sprint to avert a
government shutdown, finally pass a long-term
highway funding bill, and clear away unfinished
business like renewing tax breaks for individuals
and business. The new two or three weeks will be a
big test for new Speaker Paul Ryan, who has to
balance the demands of conservatives with the need
to get Obama to sign must-do bills.
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers
are returning to Capitol Hill to wrap up work on the
budget, highway funding and taxes, an end-of-the-year
stretch that will test the standing of Republican leaders
like House Speaker Paul Ryan with the GOP's tea party wing
and its anti-establishment presidential candidates.
There are less than two
weeks until a deadline to pass a $1.1 trillion catchall
spending bill to fund Cabinet agencies and avoid a holiday
season government shutdown. If the process doesn't go
smoothly, a last-minute temporary funding measure would be
required to keep the government open when the current
stopgap funding measure expires Dec. 11.
The so-called omnibus
spending bill represents a challenge for Ryan, R-Wis., who
took over the top House job after former Speaker John
Boehner, R-Ohio, was forced out this fall over his
penchant for looking to Democrats to pass major
legislation like year-end spending bills, among other
Ryan is sure to have to do
the same this time around despite pressure from outside
groups like the Heritage Foundation to force battles over
trying to use the must-do measure to take away federal
funding from Planned Parenthood or deal with worries about
Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks.
But the renegades that ran
Boehner out of Washington aren't in any mood to rough up
Ryan just yet.
"I think it's unfair
to hold Paul Ryan accountable for this particular omnibus.
The Dec. 11 crisis that our leadership created is one of
the reasons we got rid of our leadership," said Rep.
Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a tea party favorite. "It's not
of his making, and I personally would not write him off if
something doesn't happen on this omnibus, whether it's
Planned Parenthood ... or something else."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who
is rising in the national presidential horserace polls, is
another matter altogether. If past is prologue, he's sure
to use debate on the omnibus measure to burnish his
reputation for attacking Capitol Hill GOP leaders and
build opposition to the catchall spending compromise among
on a long-term measure funding highway and transit
programs seem likely to finally produce results, helped in
large part by a new "offset" to help pay for the
measure that involves a money shuffle from the Federal
Reserve to the Treasury. At issue is a House provision to
eliminate $29.3 billion in the Federal Reserve's capital
surplus account and prevent the Fed from depositing future
Budget watchdogs call the
money transfer a complete gimmick and say that the
additional highway spending it is being used to justify
will increase the federal debt by at least $59 billion
over the coming 10 years. But free money is a precious
commodity in Washington and given the popularity of
highway spending — as well as the sweeping 354-72 House
vote for the move — the common wisdom is that the
dubious offset will stay.
Another item on the must-do
list involves extending already expired tax breaks in time
for the upcoming filing season.
Businesses big and small
would continue to claim dozens of tax breaks that expired
at the start of the year under a bill that overwhelmingly
passed the Senate Finance Committee.
Struggling homeowners and
people who live in states without a state income tax would
get to keep their tax breaks, too. The $95 billion package
would extend more than 50 tax credits, exemptions and
deductions through 2016. Support for these so-called tax
extenders is bipartisan.
Among the biggest breaks
for businesses are a tax credit for research and
development; an exemption that allows financial companies
such as banks and investment firms to shield foreign
profits from being taxed by the U.S.; and several
provisions that allow businesses to write off capital
investments more quickly.
There is also a generous
tax credit for using wind farms and other renewable energy
sources to produce electricity.
More narrow provisions
include tax breaks for filmmakers, theatrical productions,
racehorse owners and NASCAR track owners. The biggest tax
break for individuals allows people who live in states
without an income tax to deduct state and local sales
taxes on their federal returns.
Before turning to the
must-do business, GOP leaders are devoting the House and
Senate floors to taking on President Barack Obama's health
care law and his climate change agenda.
The Senate is turning to a
rare opportunity to employ fast-track procedures to pass a
bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act and "defund"
Planned Parenthood. The fast-track legislative process
would remove the threat of a filibuster by Democrats. The
measure would have to be reconciled with a House-passed
version before it can be shipped to Obama, however.
Meanwhile, with Obama in
Paris for a U.N. conference on global warming, House GOP
leaders have slated votes to disapprove two recent
administration regulations on greenhouse gas emissions
from power plants. The move would send the measures to
Obama's desk, and he is sure to veto them.