Republicans sought to ease federal regulations on the trucking industry, financial sector, federally-funded school lunch program and more on Monday in last-minute bargaining over a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating past a Thursday midnight deadline.
The funding legislation was one of a handful of must-pass items clogging the agenda for lawmakers eager to adjourn for the new year. Others were bills to extend dozens of expiring tax breaks, authorize President Barack Obama's policy of arming Syrian rebels to fight Islamic state forces and a Democratic drive to confirm as many administration nominees as possible before the Republicans take control of the Senate in January.
Legislation to continue preventing state or local governments from imposing a tax on Internet access also seems likely to make it to Obama's desk.
There was relatively little controversy over spending levels themselves in what was shaping up as a classic year-end measure that rolled numerous unrelated issues into a single package. The $1.1 trillion in total spending adhered to spending caps approved in previous negotiations between Obama and House Republicans. It included more than $5 billion of the $6.2 billion the president requested to fight Ebola at home and overseas.
The money would be available to keep the government running through the Sept. 30, 2015 end of the fiscal year, except for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border security programs. Even failure to complete work before Thursday at midnight would not lead to a government shutdown, since lawmakers were prepared to pass a stopgap bill for a day or two to make sure there was no interruption in federal services.
Unlike the rest of the government, enough funds were made available for the Homeland Security Department only until late winter. Republicans hope that will allow them to use their new leverage to force Obama to roll back his decision suspending the threat of deportation for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
Even before then, some conservatives sought to use the year-end funding measure to try and force a presidential retreat. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., complained the legislation "will allow the president to move money around to fund his executive amnesty program." He said he hoped Congress would prevent it.
Business-friendly Republicans were largely united behind efforts to roll back a variety of government regulations, in what shaped up as something of a dress rehearsal for next year, when the GOP controls both houses of Congress.
Democratic officials said they had rejected several proposals to ease environmental regulations, and the fate of other attempts was unclear.
Among them was an attempt to ease a regulation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association requiring truckers to take a 34-hour rest break at least once every seven days and that it span two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. In a blog post, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the regulation had been upheld in court, and said efforts to overturn it "will put lives at risk."
Supporters of a change in the new rule included Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine as well as numerous lawmakers in both parties, and outside groups warned that the 2011 rule would resulting in more trucks in traffic when commuters and morning school buses were on the road.
Officials said Republicans also sought a suspension of new school lunch program requirements supported by first lady Michelle Obama that require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting sodium, sugar and fat. Some school nutrition directors have lobbied for a break, saying the rules have proven to be costly and restrictive.
Also on the table was an attempt to ease some of the requirements in legislation that regulated the financial industry in the wake of the economy's near collapse. Republicans sought to include them as part of a bargain with Democrats seeking a renewal of legislation that requires the federal government to assume some of the insurance risk in losses arising from terrorism. Without a renewal, the terrorism reinsurance program will lapse at year's end.
There was also an attempt to ease new regulations that ban most interstate sales of ivory, despite a push by makers of musical instruments, antiques and guns made with ivory, who say the ban has lowered the value of their possessions.
One official said Republicans also were hoping to ease newly issued regulations that require restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food and beverages "clearly and conspicuously" on their menus, menu boards and displays.
The restaurant industry has been supportive in an effort to dodge an uneven patchwork of local rules. But the supermarket and convenience stores had lobbied to be left out it, saying the labeling will be expensive and the costs would be passed on to consumers.
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