Here’s what Congress stuffed into its $1.3-trillion spending bill
Congressional negotiators reached a tentative agreement Wednesday night on a $1.3-trillion federal spending bill, releasing it to the public just 52 hours before a government shutdown deadline. The bill was passed by both chambers Thursday and signed by President Trump on Friday. The House version runs 2,232 pages, and we’re going through it so you don’t have to. Here are some key highlights:
The “omnibus” appropriations bill doles out funding for the remainder of fiscal 2018 — that is, until Sept. 30 — to virtually every federal department and agency pursuant to the two-year budget agreement Congress reached in February. Under that agreement, defense spending generally favored by Republicans is set to jump $80 billion over previously authorized spending levels, while domestic spending favored by Democrats rises by $63 billion. The defense funding includes a 2.4% pay raise for military personnel and $144 billion for Pentagon hardware. The domestic spending is scattered across the rest of the federal government, but lawmakers are highlighting increases in funding for infrastructure, medical research, veterans programs and efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. Civilian federal employees get a 1.9% pay raise, breaking parity with the military for the first time in several years.
The bill provides $1.6 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but with some serious strings attached. Of the total, $251 million is earmarked specifically for “secondary fencing” near San Diego, where fencing is already in place; $445 million is for no more than 25 miles of “levee fencing”; $196 million is for “primary pedestrian fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley; $445 million is for the replacement of existing fencing in that area; and the rest is for planning, design and technology — not for wall construction. The biggest catch is this: The barriers authorized to be built under the act must be “operationally effective designs” already deployed as of last March, meaning none of President Trump’s wall prototypes can be built.
The bill bumps up funding for both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, delivering increases sought by the Trump administration. But there are significant restrictions on how that new money can be spent. Democrats pushed for, and won, limitations on hiring new ICE interior enforcement agents and on the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally that the agency can detain. Under provisions written into the bill, ICE can have no more than 40,354 immigrants in detention by the time the fiscal year ends in September. But there is a catch: The Homeland Security secretary is granted discretion to transfer funds from other accounts “as necessary to ensure the detention of aliens prioritized for removal.”
Numerous transportation programs get funding increases in the bill, but the debate leading up to its release focused on one megaproject: the Gateway program, aimed at improving rail access to and from New York’s Manhattan island on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. Trump made it a signature fight, largely to punish Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic backers of the project who have held up other Trump initiatives, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told Congress this month that the project simply wasn’t ready to move forward. The project is not mentioned in the bill, and Republican aides say that they turned back efforts to essentially earmark federal funding for the project. But Democrats say that the project is still eligible for as much as $541 million in funding this fiscal year through accounts that Chao does not control. The project might also still qualify for other pools of money, though it will have to compete with other projects on an equal playing field.
Left out of the bill was a healthcare measure sought by GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee that would have allowed states to establish high-risk pools to help cover costly insurance claims while restoring certain payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act. Trump, who ended the “cost-sharing reduction” payments in the fall, supported the Collins-Alexander language. But Democrats opposed it because they claimed it included language expanding the existing prohibition on federal funding for abortions.
The bill includes the so-called Fix NICS Act, bipartisan legislation aimed at improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that is used to screen U.S. gun buyers. It provides for incentives and penalties to encourage federal agencies and states to send records to the federal database in an effort to prevent the type of oversight that preceded last year’s church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Democrats pushed for more aggressive gun laws, including universal background checks, but only won a minor concession: Language in the report accompanying the bill clarifying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can, in fact, conduct research into gun violence. A longstanding rider known as the Dickey Amendment, which states that no CDC funds “may be used to advocate or promote gun control,” has been interpreted in the past to bar such research. The amendment itself remains in effect.
The so-called grain glitch, a provision in the new GOP tax law that favored farmer-owned cooperatives over traditional agriculture corporations by providing a significantly larger tax benefit for sales to cooperatives, is undone in the bill. Farm state lawmakers and farming groups said that, without a fix, the tax law could disrupt the farm economy and even put some companies out of business. The spending bill tweaks the tax law to level the playing field between sales to coops and corporations. Democrats in exchange got a 12.5% increase in annual allocations for a low-income housing tax credit for four years.
Internal Revenue Service
Despite the administration’s attempts to slash its budget, lawmakers grant $11.431 billion to the nation’s tax collectors, a $196-million year-to-year increase and $456 million more than Trump requested. The figure includes $320 million to implement changes enacted as part of the GOP tax overhaul plan.
The bill increases funding to tackle the opioid epidemic, a boost that lawmakers from both parties hailed as a win. The legislation allocates more than $4.65 billion across agencies to help states and local governments in prevention, treatment and law enforcement initiatives. That represents a $3-billion increase over 2017 spending levels.
Included in the spending bill is the Taylor Force Act. Named after an American who was killed by a Palestinian in 2016, the measure curtails certain economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it stops financially supporting convicted terrorists and their families. It unanimously passed the House last year.
Should the bill pass, some minor league ballplayers could see a raise this year — but only barely. The Save America’s Pastime Act exempts pro baseball players from federal labor laws and has been a major lobbying priority for Major League Baseball ever since minor league players began suing the league in recent years for paying them illegally low wages. The version in the bill only exempts players working under a contract that pays minimum wage, but there are major loopholes: The contract only has to pay minimum wage for a 40-hour work week during the season, not spring training or the offseason — and it includes no guarantee of overtime, even though baseball prospects routinely work long hours. Thus, under the bill, a player is guaranteed a minimum salary of $1,160 a month. The current minor league minimum is $1,100 a month.
The bill provides $380 million to the federal Election Assistance Commission to make payments to states to improve election security and technology, and the FBI is set to receive $300 million in counterintelligence funding to combat Russian hacking.
The House appears to have gone further than the Senate to address concerns about how allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct are handled on Capitol Hill. The House set aside $4 million to pay for mandatory workplace rights training and plans to create a new Office of Employee Advocacy to assist employees in proceedings before the Office of Compliance or House Ethics Committees. House leaders also made a point of highlighting plans to expand the House Day Care Center. But senators failed to reach agreement on making changes to how allegations of wrongdoing are handled, so they won’t be included in the bill.
Congressional Research Service
The bill mandates that reports published by Congress’s in-house researchers be published online for public consumption. Historically, such reports have not been easy to access online, and a House Appropriations subcommittee took the lead last year in finally forcing transparency.
District of Columbia
The nation’s capital will see a slight dip in its federal funding. Lawmakers provide $721 million in direct federal funding to the District, a $35-million drop from last year — due mostly to a $22 million cut in emergency planning money that was used to prepare for the 2017 presidential inauguration. Lawmakers also kept out GOP attempts to block the District’s budget autonomy act and its assisted suicide law.
Religion and politics
The federal ban on tax-exempt churches engaging in political activity, known as the Johnson Amendment, will continue, despite attempts by Trump and GOP lawmakers to rescind it.
If you serve on a federal jury, your daily pay rate will increase to $50 per day — a bipartisan win sought in part after two dozen federal grand jurors in Washington petitioned House and Senate Judiciary Committee members last fall, saying the current pay rate is “abysmal,” below the minimum wage and a hardship.
The agency responsible for protecting the president and his family gets $2.007 billion, including $9.9 million for overtime worked without pay in 2017 and $14 million to construct a taller and stronger fence around the White House. In a win for congressional Democrats concerned about Secret Service agents protecting Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump on overseas business trips, the bill includes language requiring an annual report on travel costs for people protected by the service — including the adult children of presidents.
In December, the Labor Department proposed a rule that would allow employers such as restaurant owners to “pool” their employees’ tips and redistribute them as they saw fit — including, potentially, to themselves. That generated a bipartisan outcry, and the bill spells out explicitly in law that tip pooling is not permitted: “An employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.”
The legislation blocks attempts by the Energy Department to restart a moribund nuclear storage program at the Nevada mountain. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was a fierce opponent of the measure. Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — the most vulnerable GOP incumbent up for reelection in the Senate this year — and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) proved that they, too, can stop a federal program that is widely unpopular in their state from starting again.
The spending bill grants the agency $9.03 billion for salaries and expenses, a $263-million jump over the last fiscal year and $307 million more than the Trump administration requested. The bill does not include any funding for the construction of a new FBI headquarters, a win for Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to aides familiar with the move, the senator sought to block new construction funding in response to the administration’s plans to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington instead of moving it to suburban Virginia or Maryland.
The invasive species has wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes region, and lawmakers from states bordering the lakes touted language that forces the Army Corps of Engineers to keep working on ensuring that vessels in the Illinois River don’t carry the carp across an electric field erected to keep them out of the lakes.
Federal money for apprenticeship programs will increase by $50 million and there’s a $75-million increase for career and technical education programs. The office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) noted that other job-training and “workforce development” programs also stand to benefit, including “more money for child care and early head start programs to help make it easier for job seekers to enter or return to the workforce.” This has been an area of concern for former “Apprentice” star Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and advisor.
Federal funding for the arts goes up, despite GOP attempts to slash it. The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities will see funding climb to $152.8 million each, a $3-million increase over the last fiscal year. Trump proposed eliminating the endowments. The National Gallery of Art gets $165.9 million, a $1.04-million jump. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will receive $40.5 million, which is $4 million more than the last fiscal year.
Big Bird, “Antiques Roadshow” and “Masterpiece Theatre” can play on as lawmakers agreed not to cut funding for the nation’s public television and radio networks. Government funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will remain at $465 million, the same level as past years. PBS and NPR draw most of their funding directly from member stations and viewers.
The bill reauthorizes key Federal Aviation Administration programs through the end of September and extends the National Flood Insurance Program through the end of July.
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