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In Budget Negotiations, White House Throws A Curve Ball On Omnibus Bill

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WHITE HOUSE CURVEBALL
AP

WASHINGTON -- In a move that could dramatically shake up late-stage budget negotiations in Congress, the White House on Wednesday night issued a public statement alerting lawmakers that the administration was not comfortable with the current contours of a deal.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer once again urged Congress to pass a short-term extension of the current federal budget so that negotiations over a long-term appropriations bill could continue. There were, Pfeiffer said, several unresolved issues with the long-term omnibus bill, chief among them policy riders that would alter previously passed legislation and compromise executive powers.

"The President continues to have significant concerns about a number of provisions that have been reported to be in the Republican agreement on the omnibus," the statement read. "This includes provisions that would undermine Wall Street reforms, enact extreme social and ideological riders, undercut environmental protections, and threaten the foreign policy prerogatives of the President. Given the magnitude of the legislation -- providing over $1 trillion dollars in funding -- coupled with the unresolved payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extension, Congress should pass a short-term continuing resolution as it has seven times already this year so that all parties have an appropriate opportunity to consider and complete all of the critical budget and economic issues necessary to finish our responsibilities for the year."

Pressed for specifics, an administration official highlighted two examples of language in the omnibus bill that the White House found problematic. The official described these examples as "undermining Wall Street reform by not adequately funding [the Commodity Futures Trading Commission] and impinging on the President's power to conduct foreign policy in this case with regards to Cuba policy." (The omnibus, as currently envisioned, would reinstate restrictions on travel to Cuba that were loosened by the president in 2009).

In pushing Congress to give itself more time (a short-term continuing resolution could last several days or a week), the White House is very overtly letting it be known that the deal on the omnibus is far from closed.

"There has been all this reporting that somehow there is some deal on the omnibus," a senior administration official said on Tuesday. "There is not a deal on the omnibus. There is only a deal when the president is ready to sign a bill."

Republicans have insisted that negotiators have come to an agreement on a roughly $1 trillion measure to fund the government over the course of the next year. And they have called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the bill to the floor so that it can be passed into law.

Democrats have declined to do so. Publicly, their line is that a deal on the omnibus is not yet final. And, indeed, the quibbling over riders doesn't seem done yet. Privately, there is concern that if the appropriations bill were to pass, House Republicans would simply get out of town, leaving Senate Democrats with an unenviable choice: pass the GOP version of the payroll tax cut extension or no version at all.

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