WASHINGTON — A $1.1 trillion governmentwide spending bill narrowly cleared a major hurdle Thursday and headed toward a final vote later in the afternoon, despite opposition from tea party Republicans over immigration and Democrats angry over last-minute changes to bank regulations and looser rules on campaign spending.
The 214-212 vote came on a resolution to start debate. Republicans were upset that the measure fails to block President Barack Obama's recent actions on immigration and anger from Democrats over the two provisions they consider poison pills.
The White House put out a statement endorsing the measure.
With lawmakers facing a midnight Thursday deadline to prevent a government shutdown, Congress was also expected to pass a measure to keep the government running for two days. The aim is to approve the longer-term bill before adjourning Friday, though that could slip into the weekend.
Passage later Thursday was in at least some doubt because Democrats, whose votes GOP leaders need to adopt the bill, were furious over provisions that weaken regulations on risky financial instruments called swaps and another that allows wealthy donors to flood political parties with campaign cash. The two items, neither of which was disclosed until late in this week's negotiations on the bill, are particularly toxic to Democrats.
A provision aimed at shoring up financially weak multiemployer pension funds was drawing fire from AARP and some union allies of Democrats over a major change in labor law that would permit plans to cut the pensions of current retirees.
Many Democrats tended to focus more on the bad than the good since the 1,603-page bill was released late Tuesday. Large swaths of Republicans praised it for cutting spending for the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency.
But Democrats won victories, too, and the alternative is to boot the unfinished spending bills into next year, when Republicans will have retaken the Senate and bolstered their numbers in the House. Republicans were cautiously confident that they would get the Democratic votes they need to pass the bill.
"This may be a 'hold your nose' vote," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. "Do you really think next year, with Republicans entirely in control, that it would actually get better?"
A stubborn group of Republicans votes against any spending bill, and tea party lawmakers want to use it to block Obama's recent immigration moves. But outrage among Democrats is real, so Republicans will have to post more votes than normal.
"A long time ago the balance in our caucus tipped decisively against this bill," said Rep. David Price, D-N.C.
The underlying measure funds the day-to-day operations of every agency of government in a year in which such so-called discretionary spending has been frozen at current levels for both domestic agencies and the Pentagon. It's the biggest remaining item on the agenda of a lame-duck Congress that hopes to adjourn by week's end. A vote in the House is set for Thursday, and then it would go to the Senate for consideration.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a favorite of liberals and a new member of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's leadership team, promptly broke with him and railed against the measure over a provision eroding the 2010 Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street regulations. Citigroup largely wrote the provision, which critics say is aimed at boosting the bottom lines of a handful of big banks.
Specifically, the provision significantly weakens new regulations that require banks to set up separate affiliates to deal in the more exotic and riskier forms of complex financial instruments called swaps. Bringing swaps trading back into the banks would expose taxpayers to greater risk of a repeat of the 2008 bank bailout.
"The American people did not send us here to work for Wall Street banks," Warren said.
Killing the bill would mean Democrats would lose hard-fought budget increases for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as well as boosts for NASA and health research. Many of the Democratic victories in the negotiations involved dumping overboard controversial GOP policy "riders" on the environment, gun rights, abortion and new regulations on selling items made with ivory. If the measure fails, those fights would have to be relitigated next in a Capitol in which Democrats would hold far less power — though Obama would provide a powerful backstop with his veto pen.
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.
Outside groups across the political spectrum — including the Heritage Foundation, the AFL-CIO and the powerful AARP, with a membership of millions of seniors — called for defeat of the spending measure.
AARP objected to a bipartisan agreement — a Democratic priority — that will permit reductions in benefits for current retirees at multiemployer pension funds in extreme financial distress.
Conservatives were angry, too, pressing to use the measure to block Obama from giving deportation protections to nearly 5 million immigrants living here illegally and allowing them to gain work papers and eventually qualify for Social Security and Medicare.