Will Bipartisan Opposition Kill the Cromnibus?



Will the cromnibus—the $1.1 trillion spending bill intended to fund the government through next September and avoid a government shutdown—actually pass?

The general assumption yesterday was that the law would make it through the House today with votes from both sides of the aisle.

But after lawmakers spent the day pouring over the newly-published text of the proposal, the fate of the massive spending bill is now in doubt: Some conservatives are upset because the bill doesn't block President Obama's executive action on immigration, and some liberals don't like a provision that alters the way Dodd-Frank regulates derivatives. Opposition from both parties might end up killing a bill that was supposed to pass with bipartisan support. 

GOP complaints that the bill doesn't block Obama's immigration action tend to conveniently ignore a rather significant problem: Congress doesn't have the power to block Obama's action through the appropriations process (the cromnibus is mostly a combined appropriations bill). As Rep. Hal Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee, explained last month, "the Appropriations process cannot be used to 'de-fund' the agency" that is tasked with carrying out the action. The agency can fund its work through user fees without approval from Congress—and could even do so in the event of a government shutdown.

(The idea that the immigration action can be stopped by defunding closely resembles the idea that went around last year that Congress could stop Obamacare by defunding it. In October of 2013, the government shut down; Obamacare's exchanges crashed on opening, but not because Republicans had taken it out through the budget process.)

The objection to the cromnibus from the left has to do with a relatively obscure rule in Dodd-Frank regulating derivatives known as the swaps push-out provision. Under the rule, some types of derivatives would have to be moved to financial entities that aren't protected by government backing. The change included in the cromnibus would allow some of those derivatives to stay in house. For more details, the Republican Study Committee's legislative bulletin is worth reading. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) makes the case for the change here.

The liberal objection to the bill, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is basically that it defangs the financial regulations in Dodd-Frank. Complicating liberal opposition, however, is that the White House came out in favor of the cromnibus today, noting that it didn't like the derivatives provision but was supportive overall.

What we're seeing, then, is a test of White House influence over the Democratic party. The administration wants the cromnibus to pass; there are a number of Democrats who would be content to let it die. According to Politico, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has voiced strong objections to the derivatives rule change, "has privately mused that a three-month continuing resolution might actually be better for Democrats."

That would not necessarily mean a shutdown, however. If the cromnibus spending bill falls apart, House Republicans have some backup plans, including a three month continuing resolution (CR), which would punt the funding fight into the next Congress, or perhaps a one-week extension allowing more time to get a vote together before the end of the year. (Republicans reportedly said this afternoon that the three-month CR is the go-to alternative.)

At this particular moment, though, it's all up in the air. The House is currently in recess, which means a vote on the cromnibus has been postponed, although GOP leadership still says a vote will likely happen sometime today.