POLITICS
12/18/2015 09:59 am ET Updated Dec 18, 2015

House Passes $1.1 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill

The legislation is a compromise no one liked but both parties could live with.

WASHINGTON -- In a vote that might have said more about the internal divisions of the parties than the House itself, Republicans and Democrats came together Friday to pass a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government funded until October.

The so-called omnibus bill, a year-end spending bill that incorporates legislation from the 12 appropriations subcommittees, was the product of months of negotiations between party leaders and nearly a year of work from appropriators.

The House passed the bill 316-113, with 150 Republicans supporting the measure and 95 opposed. Among Democrats, 166 voted for the legislation and 18 voted against it.

On the edges of both parties, there were members who thought the legislation didn't do enough for their side. Conservatives said the legislation overspent, that it didn't do enough to address their abortion concerns and that the bill should have blocked Syrian refugees from coming to the United States. Liberals expressed disappointment that the bill did nothing to address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, that it allowed a number of environmental riders and that it lifted a ban on oil exports.

While a larger number of Democrats looked poised to vote against the legislation, many ended up getting behind the bill after Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) committed to taking up Puerto Rico legislation by the end of March. 

In a small meeting with reporters before the vote on Friday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked why Democrats hadn't played hardball on some more riders and just made Republicans pass the legislation. Her answer revealed just how tenuous the compromise was. 

"I don't think they would have passed it," Pelosi said.

Neither side could really say it won the negotiations, nor that it lost. Most of what lawmakers of each party won on was blocking the other party's policy riders. And ultimately, a meaty group of lawmakers in the middle gave the bill overwhelming support.

"The package reflects a hard-fought, fair compromise," Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Thursday.

While Rogers said an omnibus bill isn't the ideal way to fund the government -- most lawmakers said they would prefer that Congress pass individual appropriations bills -- he made it clear he thought it was better than a continuing resolution, which just maintains government spending at current levels without new policy riders. 

The omnibus, often called a "Christmas tree bill," was festooned with legislation, including the 9/11 first responders bill, a visa waiver bill and an intelligence programs authorization act. In all, the bill was just over 2,000 pages. 

Democrats considered the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 health program a big win that took much more pulling of teeth than would have seemed necessary.  

"We had to go right almost to the wire on what the pay-fors would be for 9/11," Pelosi said. 

Perhaps the biggest win for Republicans was lifting a 40-year oil export ban. Ryan has repeatedly emphasized the importance of those provisions over the last few days to the press and his members, calling it a "huge win."

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, tried to sell the omnibus as a victory, pointing out that Republicans were unable to get most of the policy riders they wanted. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, told reporters Friday that the riders Democrats stripped from the omnibus were "literally too numerous to mention."

Israel went further, trying to turn a year dominated by a strong Republican majority and a new House speaker -- described by Pelosi as someone who "offers to [Democrats] the clearest contrast" on policy priorities -- to one where Democrats demonstrated their unity. That unity was seen again in the strong Democratic showing on the omnibus vote, where Democrats put the tally over the top for final passage with 166 votes. 

"On every significant vote Democrats had to put it over the top, to the point where Republicans had to take out their own speaker of the House," Israel said. "This is an important vote, but at the end of the day it's one vote on one omnibus. This isn't the end of the fight, this is the beginning of ongoing fights and some real contrasts in priorities between House Republicans and House Democrats." 

The spending level in the trillion-dollar measure -- technically it's $1.149 trillion -- was set at the end of October in an effort by outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to "clean the barn." Congressional Democrats and the president were poised to oppose any spending bill that did not raise domestic spending rates above levels set in the 2011 sequester legislation.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass Friday and go immediately to the president for his signature.

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