Oil export ban in play in final-stage talks on budget deal

By Erica Werner and Andrew Taylor, Associated Press

Congressional negotiators and the White House closed in on a deal late Monday on a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill to stave off a shutdown, and a tax package extending dozens of breaks.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators and the White House closed in on a deal late Monday on a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill to stave off a shutdown, and a tax package extending dozens of breaks.

In a Monday evening conference call among House Republicans, Speaker Paul Ryan said bargainers were close to agreements on the spending and tax measures that he expected to publicly release Tuesday, which would set up votes later in the week. He said the bills would contain victories for both parties but provided few details, according to an official who described the private conversation on condition of anonymity.

In return for lifting the four-decade-old oil export ban, Democrats were seeking various environmental concessions, including extending tax credits for solar and wind energy production for five years, and reviving an environmental conservation fund. Democrats also were trying to block Republican efforts to roll back Obama administration environmental regulations, with Democratic lawmakers who traveled to the Paris climate talks returning energized to fight.

Government funding runs out Wednesday at midnight, but Congress may need to pass another short-term extension of a day or two to complete work on the $1.14 trillion government-wide spending bill. Negotiations have dragged on as the legislation has become an increasingly complex grab-bag for priorities and trade-offs large and small.

It's also intertwined with another massive bill extending dozens of tax credits benefiting interest groups across the political spectrum, sparking intense lobbying on numerous fronts.

Congressional passage would mean lawmakers would then head home for the holidays, having done their necessary work in typically messy and last-minute fashion.

"Many of us in the Senate and the House and our staffs worked through the weekend and have made a lot of progress," Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on the floor as the Senate gaveled back into session at mid-afternoon Monday. "We're not there yet."

The ban on exporting crude oil was instituted during energy shortages of the 1970s but Republicans, and some Democrats, say it's long outlived any usefulness. They note a boom in domestic energy production. Environmental groups and most Democrats counter that the main beneficiaries would be big oil companies.

At the White House Monday press secretary Josh Earnest refused to weigh in on inclusion of the provision. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure as stand-alone legislation but seems likely to accept if it's made part of the must-pass spending bill.

"I would anticipate that there will be some elements of the budget bill that are not consistent with the kinds of policies that we have long supported here," Earnest said. "But that's the essence of compromise and the president's only going to support the budget agreement if he does believe that it is clearly in the best interests of the country."

Lobbyists said it was becoming increasingly likely that the spending package would lack a provision pushed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi easing curbs against gun violence research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Democrats had been hoping this month's shooting massacre in San Bernardino, California, would boost support for the proposal, or at least increase the political cost for Republicans opposing it.

It was also possible that Congress could opt for more modest two-year extensions of most existing tax credits rather than a major package with permanent and long-range changes.


Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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