Spending bill talks edge closer to deal on oil exports

Congressional negotiators edged closer to a historic deal to lift a 40-year-old ban on most U.S. crude oil exports as part of a massive government spending bill, but the talks were far from conclusion, congressional aides said late on Friday.

A Senate aide, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the talks, said an end to the ban was "very likely," in the so-called "omnibus" spending bill. The aide added that this could be traded for extensions of wind and solar tax credits and more environmental funding.

Other congressional aides said such an agreement was possible, but there was no deal yet. Negotiators are haggling over several controversial policy provisions that could be attached to the $1.15 trillion spending measure. These include the removal of the ban on crude exports, a Democratic proposal to end a ban on medical research into gun violence, and Republican demands to tighten screening of Syrians seeking refuge in the United States.

"We do not have a final agreement on the omnibus or tax extenders," said Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

Republicans have been pushing to end the crude export ban to help sustain a major boom in U.S. oil production and offer U.S. allies an alternative to Russian and OPEC oil.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, a major new oil producing state, as saying: "We're guardedly optimistic that this will be in fact part of the deal that gets done."

U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Congress on Friday passed a five-day stop-gap measure to keep the government funded through Wednesday to avert a shutdown of federal agencies and national parks. President Barack Obama promptly signed the measure into law.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi raised the gun violence research ban issue on Friday during a phone call with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan on the talks, according to a House aide familiar with the call.

A spokeswoman for Ryan said he remains opposed to lifting the nearly 20-year-old gun research ban.

With talks expected to drag through the weekend, Congress looked set to push up against the new funding deadline at midnight on Wednesday.

Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed talk among Democrats that a longer temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or "CR," may be needed to carry the government through a holiday break into January. He said Republicans intended to finish the spending bill early next week.

"It is our intention to have our work done and not need to pass any further CRs," McCarthy said in an exchange on the House floor.