WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2015 - The White House is trying to protect its “waters of the United States” rule during negotiations over a government-wide funding bill for fiscal 2016, a senior House appropriator says.

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said a policy rider that would block implementation of the WOTUS rule has significant Democratic support, but when asked if the White House was resisting the provision, he said, “They’re not as flexible as they need to be.”

“To me that’s a no-brainer, because it has lots of Democratic support,” Cole said of the WOTUS rider, which redefines which ditches, wetlands, streams and other features fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The rule is “an incredible overreach” for “anybody from the development industry, anybody who is farming, rural,” Cole said, noting that courts have suspended enforcement of the rule. 

The appropriations provision would guarantee that the rule could not be implemented even if the court stays were lifted. And once enacted, lawmakers believe the WOTUS provision could be extended beyond fiscal 2016. 

Lawmakers are trying to wrap up negotiations on the massive omnibus spending bill by the end of the week, so that the Senate and House have time to debate before the continuing resolution that is currently funding the government expires Dec. 11. 

Lawmakers appear to have largely agreed on spending levels, but policy riders have emerged as key sticking points this week. Democrats rejected a Republican proposal, saying it was full of riders they couldn’t accept.  

“This was not a real offer,” the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey of New York, told reporters Wednesday. “If they don’t want to shut down the government, and if they do want to get our support, then we will sit down and work on a final proposal and I hope that time will become before Dec. 11.”

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Democrats have provisions that they want, too. House and Senate leaders are negotiating over including a ban on horse slaughter, said California Rep. Sam Farr, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Farr proposed the ban in committee but it failed on a tie vote. 

The omnibus is critical to agriculture interests beyond the WOTUS issue because the bill would provide the legislative vehicle for moving several major pieces of legislation that are being negotiated in the Senate, including a repeal of a mandatory country-of-origin labeling law for meat and reauthorization of child nutrition programs and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. 

The food industry also wants to use the bill to enact legislation that would block state GMO labeling laws.