WASHINGTON – Republican demands to end the ban on exporting crude oil emerged as a final negotiating point Monday as lawmakers scrambled to complete a year-end spending bill needed to keep the government running.
In return for lifting the four-decade-old ban, Democrats were seeking various environmental concessions, including extending tax credits for solar and wind energy production for five years, and reviving an environmental conservation fund. Democrats also were trying to block GOP efforts to roll back Obama administration environmental regulations, with Democratic lawmakers who traveled to the Paris climate talks returning energized to fight.
“It’s like they all went to an international pep rally and got all this emotional wind at their back,” GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said in a phone interview.
Government funding runs out Wednesday at midnight, but Congress may need to pass another short-term extension of a day or two to complete work on the $1.14 trillion government-wide spending bill. Negotiations have dragged on as the legislation has become an increasingly complex grab-bag for priorities and trade-offs large and small.
It’s also intertwined with another massive bill extending dozens of tax credits benefiting interest groups across the political spectrum, sparking intense lobbying on numerous fronts.
The legislation might not be finalized until Tuesday, which would probably mean final congressional passage toward the end of the week. Lawmakers would then head home for the holidays, having done their necessary work in typically messy and last-minute fashion.
“Many of us in the Senate and the House and our staffs worked through the weekend and have made a lot of progress,” Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on the floor as the Senate gaveled back into session at mid-afternoon Monday. “We’re not there yet.”
The ban on exporting crude oil was instituted during energy shortages of the 1970s but Republicans, and some Democrats, say it’s long outlived any usefulness. They note a boom in domestic energy production. Environmental groups and most Democrats counter that the main beneficiaries would be big oil companies.
Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., whose state has experienced an oil boom, said they were hopeful the provision lifting the ban on crude would survive last-stage talks.
At the White House Monday press secretary Josh Earnest refused to weigh in on inclusion of the provision. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure as stand-alone legislation but seems likely to accept if it’s made part of the must-pass spending bill.
“I would anticipate that there will be some elements of the budget bill that are not consistent with the kinds of policies that we have long supported here,” Earnest said. “But that’s the essence of compromise and the president’s only going to support the budget agreement if he does believe that it is clearly in the best interests of the country.”
At the same time the talks have demonstrated that it can be good to be in congressional leadership, as some key lawmakers championed their own parochial priorities.
Reid looked likely to win relief for Caesars Entertainment, one of his state’s largest employers, in battles with some of its creditors as the company restructures its debt.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., meanwhile, was seeking to sharply boost government funding to help a huge new coal-fired power plant in Kemper County implement new “clean coal” technologies. Democratic aides said Cochran was seeking as much as $160 million for the project.
Similarly, Cochran was the prime force behind more than $600 million to construct an additional Coast Guard National Security Cutter that would be built by Ingalls Shipbuilding at its huge facility in Pascagoula. The Coast Guard has requested eight of the ships; Cochran would add the ninth.
There was also bipartisan support to ease new Federal Communications Commission rules that would restrict cost-saving advertising sales agreements between stations in the same market. The FCC says big media companies are exploiting the agreements in order to evade restrictions against owning multiple stations in the same market.
Various agreements also were emerging on the tax bill, according to lobbyists following the talks, including tentative agreement to postpone start of the so-called “Cadillac” tax on high-value health insurance plans under Obama’s health law from 2018 to 2020. There may also be a two-year pause in the existing 2.3 percent medical device tax.
But there was still significant uncertainty over the fate of those provisions and others and it was possible Congress could opt for more modest two-year extensions of most existing tax credits rather than a major package with permanent and long-range changes.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.