‘Cromnibus’ delayed as House, Senate leaders haggle

Are we going to see this again? Furloughed workers leave the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Anchorage, Alaska, during the federal government shutdown on October 1, 2013.
Are we going to see this again? Furloughed workers leave the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Anchorage, Alaska, during the federal government shutdown on October 1, 2013. MCT

A measure to fund the federal government and avert a shutdown later this week stalled Monday as leaders in the House and Senate haggled over last-minute details.

The so-called ‘Cromnibus’ was supposed to be unveiled Monday shortly after the House of Representatives opened for business. But by late afternoon the omnibus package of 11 bills to fund the government running through September 2015 and a short term continuing resolution – or CR – to fund the Department of Homeland Security were still being negotiated.

‘Now there are items being discussed by (House Speaker John) Boehner and (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid and (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell and (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi,’ said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ‘At that level, when those are (issues) are resolved, we’ll file the bill and be ready to go.’

Mikulski said the party leaders in both chambers could resolve their issues Monday evening in time for the House to vote on the cromnibus Wednesday. But she wouldn’t guarantee it.

‘Everything is a sticking point until it’s unstuck and filed,’ she told reporters. ‘I believe we will not have a shutdown and I believe we will not have a government on autopilot. The exact time and hour, I’m not exactly sure. Let’s see what they can get done tonight, but we’re ready to roll.’

The budget to be rolled out by lawmakers, after days of back-room negotiations, would fund most of the government through the end of the fiscal year. But it’d fund the Department of Homeland Security only through February.

That’s because Republicans, who’ll control both chambers of Congress as of Jan. 6, hope to construct a plan to pressure or punish President Barack Obama over his November executive order that granted a temporary reprieve from deportation proceedings for more than 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

The more-conservative wing of the GOP wants to confront Obama on the immigration order. The splitting the Homeland Security funding off from the broader package to fund government through the fiscal year’s end is designed to appease them. The agency has immigration enforcement and work permits in its jurisdiction, and funding it only through February gives the president’s critics more time to develop a challenge plan.

The overall spending level in the federal budget was capped by a two-year agreement hammered out in December 2013 by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Their agreement boosted federal spending by $63 billion over that two-year period.

With the roughly $1.1 trillion headline number largely locked in for 2015, the negotiations ahead of the Dec. 11 deadline to fund the government were over where to spend the money, where to cut and where to hold the line.

Boehner, R-Ohio, is in the unenviable position of needing Democrats to get a budget passed through the House and avoiding a partial government shutdown that could begin on Friday. Pelosi, D-Calif., had warned repeatedly that she would leave Boehner to his fate with a divided membership if there were too many items unacceptable to Democrats.

Economic analysts were watching budget developments, hoping that Washington would avoid another self-inflicted wound like the 16-day partial shutdown of the government in October 2013 that did economic damage. The brinksmanship over budgets and debt levels continues to weigh heavily on the sentiment of both consumers and businesses.

"I think they’ve learned the lesson of the various government shutdowns," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for global forecaster IHS Global Insight. "Time is running out on them because they all want to go home. I will be very surprised if they lead it to a shutdown … it’s always possible. But I don’t think it’s very probable."

The negotiations take place amid an improving budget outlook. The federal deficit_ the difference between what government spends versus collects in revenue_ was around $483 billion in November projections. That’s a third of the $1.5 trillion deficit of fiscal 2009. And revenue as of Sept. 30 was slightly over $3 trillion, well up from about 2.2 billion in FY 2009.

Total government spending fell over the past three fiscal years, a carryover from earlier restraints imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011.