Lawmakers put finishing touches on spending bill

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm •  Published: January 7, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Funding for implementing the new health care law and other sticking points remain, but negotiators reported significant progress Tuesday on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September.

"We are looking at narrowing the differences, looking at ... how we can compromise without capitulation on both sides," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. After a meeting of the four principal negotiators — the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Appropriations committees — Mikulski was cautiously optimistic of reaching agreement on the massive bill later this week in hopes of a vote next week.

"Our subcommittee chairmen have really done 90 percent of the work. We are now at 10 percent, but this last 10 percent, like in any negotiation, is the toughest," Mikulski said. A top aide accompanying Mikulski back to her office told reporters that the budgets for the Pentagon and the Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Transportation departments are "virtually wrapped up."

But the two sides remain at odds over funding to implement so-called Obamacare and a 2010 overhaul of financial regulations, and they're still sorting through more than 130 policy items known as "riders" in Washington-speak, many of which are backed by conservatives seeking to derail Obama administration environmental and labor regulations.

Among the differences is giving the administration flexibility to certify that Egypt qualifies for U.S. military aid despite a law that bans such assistance after coups, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the foreign aid panel.

The most controversial riders are likely to be jettisoned to the dismay of conservatives, many of whom will vote against the bill anyway over its funding of Obamacare. The issue sparked a 16-day partial shutdown of the government at the hands of House conservatives that GOP leaders are loath to repeat.

"I'm hopeful we'll work something out where neither side is very happy, but we'll work it out and Obamacare will continue to be implemented," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, responsible for a massive section of the measure funding the Labor and Health and Human Services departments. Harkin said another hang-up includes differences over funding to implement the new health care law and GOP-sought provisions to effectively block several union-friendly decisions by the National Labor Relations Board, including a 2011 change that made it more difficult for anti-union workers to petition to decertify a union.

Harkin predicted Democrats will carry the day in annual fights over abortion, which include a GOP-sought ban on federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The goal is to finish writing the mammoth measure this week in anticipation of House and Senate votes before a Jan. 15 deadline to avert another government shutdown, but as a practical matter Congress still will likely have to pass a temporary funding measure to keep the government running after midnight next Wednesday.

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