Liberals and conservatives gripe about $1.1T bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Exposed to the light of day, a year-end, $1.1 trillion spending bill drew vociferous objections from liberals and milder criticism from conservatives on Wednesday while lawmakers readied a brief, stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown both parties vowed to avoid.

Democrats complained bitterly in public about a portion of the $1.1 trillion measure that eases regulations imposed on big banks in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown — even though 70 members of party’s rank and file supported an identical provision in a stand-alone bill late last year.

After a closed-door meeting, Democrats also chorused objections to separate section of the spending bill that eases limits on campaign contributions to political parties.

The White House declined to state President Barack Obama’s position on the legislation, negotiated in secret over several days by senior lawmakers, including top leaders in both parties and both houses.

“Putting these two things together in the same bill illustrates everything that’s wrong with the political process right now,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Republicans countered — correctly — that Democratic negotiators initially signed off on both, and Speaker John Boehner rebuffed a request from the Democratic leader, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, to jettison them.

“If Rep. Pelosi doesn’t think her negotiators did a good job, she should discuss it with them,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman.

On the other side of the political spectrum, some conservatives grumbled that the measure left the administration’s controversial new immigration policy unchallenged until the end of February. That decision “makes no sense at all. We’ve let the Democrats set their agenda as though we lost the election,” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming.

Given opposition from an unknown number of conservatives, Boehner and the Republican high command likely will need some Democratic support to assure the bill’s passage in a vote set for Thursday.

Whatever the Democrats’ motive, the political crossfire left the massive, 1,603-page bill in limbo — and so, too, chances of a smooth ending for a Congress marked by two years of intense partisanship.

Other legislation awaited approval as lawmakers looked to the year-end exits.

The House voted overwhelmingly to renew a program that requires the government to assume some of the insurance risk in disasters resulting from terrorism. The vote was 417-7, even though the same bill repealed a different section of the so-called Dodd-Frank law that regulated the financial industry a few years ago.

A second measure awaiting clearance renews expiring tax provisions and a third would bless the administration’s plan to equip and train Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State forces in the Middle East. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also sought confirmation for nine more of Obama’s appointees to the federal bench and confirmation of a slew of other officials in a final show of political strength before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

Reaction to the spending bill dwarfed other issues of the day.

House Republicans, meeting privately, received an 11-page document prepared by the leadership that said the bill “stops wasteful spending, reins in regulatory overreach, avoids shutdown, improves government.”

Conservative Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, said he was pleased. “I think we won on policy (and) the budget numbers are lower than I ever thought it would be,” he said of the measure, which cited the very provision relating to banks that inflamed Democrats.

It would roll back regulations that prohibit financial institutions from using federal deposit insurance to back investments on some complex financial instruments. Supporters said that would help farmers and other borrowers secure loans, and opponents derided it as a bailout.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., urged by some liberals to run for president in 2016, said the measure amounted to government “for the rich and powerful,” and would favor the same financial institutions “that nearly broke the economy in 2008 and destroyed millions of jobs.”

A spokesman for Hillary Clinton, odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination if she runs, did not respond to a request for comment.

An unlikely coalition of the unwilling was building in opposition to the legislation.

The AFL-CIO and the conservative Heritage Foundation both called for its defeat. So, too, Democracy 21, which seeks to reduce the influence of big money in politics.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, representing insurance companies, complained that another provision would lead to higher premiums for consumers. The AARP, which claims a multi-million membership of seniors, objected to a bipartisan agreement — a Democratic priority — that will permit reductions in benefits for current retirees at multi-employer pension funds in extreme financial distress.

The campaign finance changes would sharply increase the amount an individual may contribute to various national political party accounts annually, from $32,400 to $324,000 for national conventions, election recounts and headquarters buildings.

For all the controversy, the legislation marked a return to normalcy in an era of divided government.

Instead of providing interim funding, the comprehensive legislation was really 11 separate bills in one to assure operations through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, and was stocked with policy changes sought by one party or the other.

The exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded through Feb. 27. Republicans intend to try then to force Obama to accept changes to his immigration policy, without opening themselves to charges that they risk shutting down the entire government to get their way.

Under the president’s policy, an estimated 4 million immigrants in the United States illegally would be spared the threat of deportation.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Stephen Ohlemacher, Erica Werner and Philip Elliott contributed to this report.

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