Pelosi, White House support plan allowing U.S. crude oil exports

Cuero’s Texas swagger fades as the oil town finds itself in an OPEC squeeze. Shown, an oil exploration rig pictured in a truck’s side mirror in 2004 in Inez, about 40 miles southeast of Cuero.  CREDIT: Bloomberg News photo by Mike Fuentes).

WASHINGTON – The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, joined the White House in announcing support for a $1.1 trillion spending plan that would avert a U.S. government shutdown and lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.

The spending bill, which would fund the government through September 2016, is being paired in Congress with a separate $622 billion measure to revive a series of expired tax breaks. Pelosi, of California, told House Democrats she would vote for the spending bill in a private meeting Thursday morning, spokesman Drew Hammill said.

Pelosi has denounced the separate tax measure as “practically an immorality.” The House will vote on the tax bill on Thursday and the spending bill on Friday. The Senate plans to vote on the full package Friday. President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a stopgap measure passed by both chambers to fund the government through Dec. 22.

Obama and many congressional Democrats oppose lifting the ban on oil exports, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday the fiscal package, H.R. 2029, was a success for the administration.

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“We feel good about the outcome,” Earnest said. Democrats deflected a number of Republican proposals, he said, including prohibiting federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the women’s health provider, curbing the Dodd-Frank financial law and blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

An administration statement backing the plan said it would “take a critical step toward a simpler, fairer tax code and a stronger economy.”

“In divided government no one gets exactly what they want,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Wednesday morning. By allowing oil exports, the plan is “a big win,” he said.

Passage of the spending bill in the House isn’t guaranteed, although House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, predicted it would attract sufficient votes.

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Some conservative Republicans said they would vote against it.

“It is going to bust the deficit. We are not doing anything for yet another year to take the debt burden off our kids and grandkids,” Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana said in an interview on Thursday. “All we get is increased spending and Democrat priorities.”

Second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer said his party was unhappy that Republicans placed the language to lift the crude oil ban in the government spending bill instead of the tax measure. That wouldn’t sink the deal, he said.

“We are trying to be as positive as possible because we must keep government open,” Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday. “But we are going to make a knowledgeable vote about it.”

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The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on the chamber’s floor on Wednesday that the deal was imperfect but a “good compromise” that would protect middle-class Americans and boost the use of clean energy.

Another Republican win in the bill is a provision prohibiting the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political contributions. The legislation also would benefit industries including health care, broadcasters and meat processors.

Ryan, elected speaker in late October, and fellow Republicans want to show they can govern after years of threatened government shutdowns and a 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013.

Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri said the proposal to lift the crude oil export ban “is huge” and would have a “much bigger” effect than building the Keystone XL pipeline. Asked whether she planned to vote for the fiscal legislation, she said, “You bet I am.”

Industry sectors were among the beneficiaries in the massive bill. The two pieces of legislation would suspend three taxes intended to fund the Affordable Care Act — a so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health insurance plans would be delayed from 2018 to 2020; a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices would be paused in 2016 and 2017; and a fee on health insurers would be paused for 2016.

The tax measure would extend a $1 per gallon biodiesel credit and other benefits for renewable energy sources — provisions sought by Democrats in exchange for lifting the oil export ban. Wind developers would get at least five more years to claim a production tax credit, while the amount of that credit gradually scales down. Commercial and residential solar developers also would be able to claim an investment tax credit for at least five more years, though it would gradually phase down from covering 30 percent of qualifying costs today to 10 percent.

Mandatory “country-of-origin” labeling of meat imported from other countries would be ended, a change Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised. U.S. meatpackers including Tyson Foods Inc. had sought a repeal and the move may help stave off $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs that Canada and Mexico won from the World Trade Organization earlier this month.

Congress also wants the government to rein in a nutrition panel that called for cutting meat and sugar in American diets in a draft of guidelines that upset industry groups and lawmakers earlier this year.

Broadcasters including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar Broadcasting Group also would get relief in the spending plan from pending restrictions on their ability to control more than one television station in a city, according to bill text.

Other provisions include restoring health benefits for first responders to the Sept. 11 terror attacks who became sick because of their work and health-care payment aid for cash- strapped Puerto Rico, whose governor is in Washington this week.

The tax-extension measure would make a number of tax breaks permanent, including those for companies’ research and development, and allow small business owners to depreciate assets during the first year after purchase rather than over a number of years. Also to be made permanent are an enhanced child tax credit and earned income tax credit, as well as tax breaks for charitable giving and schoolteachers’ expenses.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the spending bill includes enough aid for Puerto Rico to get the debt-ridden island through February. The measure would increase payments to hospitals on the island and provide bonus Medicare payments to doctors and medical facilities that adopt electronic health-record keeping.

Hatch called the health-care provisions “less than desirable” in a written statement, while praising another provision that allows the U.S. Treasury to provide technical assistance to the island by authorizing the department to help the island government with areas like budgeting and cash management.

Ryan said in a statement that he’s instructing House committees to “come up with a responsible solution” to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis by the end of March. The health-care payment increases would provide as much as $900 million over the next decade, said the island’s non-voting House member, Pedro Pierluisi, who had sought a provision granting Puerto Rico agencies access to Chapter 9 bankruptcy. “I am deeply disappointed but not discouraged,” he said in a statement.

Pelosi said last week that Republicans would need Democratic votes to help pass the plan. Passage could depend on how many Republicans Ryan can keep from voting against the measure. More than 167 of the 246 House Republicans voted against a budget bill in October.

“I probably am not going to be able to get there,” said Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, citing concerns including the lack of language dealing with some of his efforts to restrict abortion. The conservative group Heritage Action called on lawmakers to vote against the spending bill, saying it “falls far short of achieving substantive policy victories on the issues Americans care about.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, though, said it strongly supports the tax package and urged lawmakers to vote for it.

U.S. oil producers, including Continental Resources, Pioneer Natural Resources and ConocoPhillips, have been pressing for an end to restrictions on exports of most raw, unprocessed crude.

“We have the best technology, the best oil and over time we will drive out Russian oil, we will drive out Saudi, Iranian,” Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said in an interview. “It puts the United States in the driver’s seat of energy policy worldwide. It is a huge victory.”

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts called lifting the export ban “another permanent benefit for Big Oil” and said the temporary extension of wind and solar energy tax credits wasn’t sufficient.

The spending measure would scale back a program that allows visa-free entry to the U.S. for citizens of about three dozen countries, including much of Europe. People who have traveled recently to Iraq, Syria or other countries deemed to have significant terrorist activity would have to go through the normal visa application process.

The legislation also would ratify an International Monetary Fund plan approved in 2010 to increase the voting share of emerging economies and double the amount of permanent funding available to the Washington-based fund. Until now, Republican opposition has prevented the IMF from implementing the changes.

Todd Shields, Alan Bjerga, James Rowley, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Catherine Dodge, Angela Greiling Keane and Mike Dorning contributed.