By Kristina Peterson
WASHINGTON--GOP leaders in Congress said they hoped to complete writing year-end spending and tax legislation Tuesday if they can resolve a partisan impasse over energy policy that threatened to rob Republicans of one of their biggest potential victories.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), highlighted the final sticking point publicly Tuesday, saying that the talks with Republicans had bogged down over whether to lift a 40-year-old ban on oil exports. Democrats had been willing to remove the ban, a change long sought by Republicans, if GOP lawmakers agree to include measures aimed at supporting renewable energy.
Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday that Democrats were prepared to go forward with spending and tax bills that leave out the oil ban entirely if Republicans didn't agree to Democrats' demands.
"We've made it clear that if they want this oil export ban [lifted], there must be included in this policies to reduce our carbon emissions and encourage use of renewable energy," Mr. Reid said. "All the Republicans had to do was say yes."
Democrats have been pushing to extend wind and solar tax credits for five years and tweak the solar tax break in a way that would let more projects qualify.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said he expected legislation to fund the government for fiscal 2016 would be passed later this week. Congress would need to pass another very short-term spending patch to prevent a brief lapse when the government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
"This doesn't mean negotiators have surmounted every obstacle, but it does signal an unmistakable sign of forward momentum," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor.
Lawmakers agreed in late October to the spending bill's overall funding level as part of a two-year budget agreement, but have been negotiating for weeks over which policy provisions will get attached to it. Simultaneously, leaders have also been working on legislation to revive and renew a host of lapsed and expiring tax breaks, which could also incorporate some late policy agreements.
The House is expected to vote on the two bills separately, likely on Thursday. The bills might then be combined into a single package to send over to the Senate, though that remains under discussion.
Many House Democrats are expected to oppose the tax legislation, which they say makes tax breaks for businesses permanent without providing enough help for low-income households. But Democratic votes will be needed in the House to pass the spending bill because many Republicans believe it is too expensive.
Mr. Ryan declined Tuesday morning to predict how many House Republicans would support the spending bill, saying both parties had to compromise on the legislation.
"I'm not going to predict how the vote count is going to go down," Mr. Ryan said at a Politico breakfast. "Democrats won some, they lost some. We won some, we lost some."
While the House can hold separate votes relatively quickly, legislation takes longer to clear Senate procedures.
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