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Today’s Headlines: Congress’ big ‘Christmas tree’ bill

Congress has approved a massive spending bill to provide economic stimulus amid the pandemic.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Congress has voted for a spending package that includes checks for many Americans and funding for the federal government — and a long list of other provisions.

TOP STORIES

Congress’ Big ‘Christmas Tree’ Bill

Congress has approved a spending bill providing a new round of economic stimulus to millions of Americans struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, in a massive piece of legislation stuffed with unrelated provisions that include halting “surprise medical billing” and creating new Smithsonian museums dedicated to Latinos and women. Massive year-end bills like this are known in Washington as “Christmas trees,” because everyone seems to be able to attach an ornament.

The full details and text of the 5,593-page, $2.3-trillion bill — thought to be the largest single piece of legislation in congressional history — were not released until a few hours before the votes were held Monday night. The rush frustrated rank-and-file lawmakers, who complained that the measure was just another in a long series of mammoth bills they were being asked to approve without adequate time to digest.

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Despite their frustration, lawmakers in the House and the Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill and sent it to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

In addition to the approximately $900 billion to address the pandemic, the bill includes $1.4 trillion to keep the government running through September. It also adds dozens of policies designed to win votes or clear out Congress’ unfinished business before year’s end.

Among those is a long-sought bipartisan agreement that attempts to end situations in which patients are billed at higher, out-of-network rates when getting treatment at an in-network facility, especially emergency rooms. It would also require the State Department to establish a U.S. Consulate in Tibet, a move that could heighten tensions with China; direct the Smithsonian Institution to create new museums on or near Washington’s National Mall dedicated to Latinos and women; and allow businesses to deduct restaurant meals from their taxes.

More Politics

— Outgoing Atty. Gen. William Barr said he saw no reason to appoint a special counsel to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son and no need to seize voting machines as Trump wants him to do.

— Biden rolled up his sleeve to be inoculated against the coronavirus and assure Americans the shot was safe in a nationally televised moment Monday that raised an obvious question: Why isn’t Trump grabbing this spotlight?

— In the runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats representing Georgia, religion has emerged front and center.

The Specter of Christmas Present

Airports are seeing steady increases in travelers determined to spend Christmas with family and friends. Coronavirus testing centers are seeing brisk business, including from some people who want to know whether they have the virus before attending holiday events. Last-minute shoppers are still out looking for that perfect gift.

To the alarm of California health officials, Christmas is looking an awful lot like Thanksgiving, where social gatherings put an already unprecedented surge of the coronavirus into overdrive. On Monday, the state once again shattered a new daily record with 62,000 new coronavirus cases reported.

But even the most dire public health warnings seemed to have failed to sink in. And in some cases, they are no match for the basic human need to spend time with loved ones, maintain family traditions and turn to others for support during challenging times.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

Sweeping restrictions on businesses and activities are expected to remain in place past their original expiration date across a wide swath of California, as the availability of intensive care beds continues to dwindle.

— The Los Angeles Unified School District will not reopen campuses when the spring semester starts Jan. 11, and in a statement Supt. Austin Beutner provided no timetable for bringing students back to campuses.

— L.A. County officials have lifted a ban on indoor religious services after a series of court rulings involving houses of worship that argued that the pandemic-related restrictions violate religious freedoms.

— A rare and potentially deadly illness known as MIS-C that infects children exposed to the coronavirus is sickening a growing number in California.

In China’s Shadow

Last year, Drew Pavlou, a student at the University of Queensland in Australia, gathered a small group of fellow students to chant, “Hey-hey, ho-ho — Xi Jinping has got to go!” in a protest of the Chinese government’s repression of Uighur Muslims and crackdown on Hong Kong.

Things quickly turned violent. A man in the crowd rushed at Pavlou, snatching his megaphone. A second man shoved him. In the ensuing scuffles, one student from Hong Kong was tackled and grabbed by the throat; another had her shirt ripped open.

The next day, Chinese state media named Pavlou as a leader of the protest, and Beijing’s consul general in Brisbane — who is also an adjunct professor at the university — praised the “spontaneous patriotic behavior” of those who attacked him.

In a sign of how China’s economic power has translated into influence in Australia and its schools, the university defended its relationship with Beijing and turned on one of its brightest students.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On Dec. 23, 1952, director John Huston arrived at the Fox Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills to find protesters. The night was supposed to mark the premiere of his new film, “Moulin Rouge.”

The film’s release came as a Red Scare was underway. According to The Times, picketers singled out Huston and actor Jose Ferrer, accusing them of being communist sympathizers, though both men denied it. The men carrying the signs were members of the 17th District American Legion Un-American Activities committee, taking cues from the House Committee on Un-American Activities in Washington.

Five years earlier, Huston had attempted to protest the HUAC hearings, but the effort was unsuccessful. The hearings ushered in anti-communist hysteria and Hollywood’s blacklist era.

John Huston stands with his entourage in formal attire as protesters accuse him of being a communist sympathizer.
Dec. 23, 1952: Director John Huston’s political views are greeted by protests on picket placards as he and his entourage arrive for the premiere of his film “Moulin Rouge.”
(Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— Documents show Pasadena and Long Beach police have been passing license plate data directly to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arm despite public promises they weren’t sharing that information.

— As California takes stock of its worst wildfire season on record, experts say that increasingly large and devastating fires have already altered the state’s forests for centuries to come.

— Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed the departure of his chief of staff and the selection of a veteran Sacramento strategist to lead his administration.

— The UCLA Foundation has announced a $5-million gift aimed at helping students affected by the pandemic, including for scholarships, the campus COVID-19 emergency relief fund, mental health services, leadership training, basic needs support and student government programs.

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NATION-WORLD

Deaths in the U.S. are expected to top 3 million this year for the first time. As with so many other things this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame.

— With a new and more contagious strain of the coronavirus sweeping across London and the southeast of England, Britain is now effectively an international pariah, cut off from much of the rest of the world as more countries bar its people.

— The European Union has given official approval for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer.

— Decades after the U.S. broke its commitment to provide medical care for Marshall Islands residents living in the U.S., congressional negotiators have agreed to reinstate that promise, delivering Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage to tens of thousands.

— The Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted, and a magnitude 4.4 earthquake followed. A 2018 eruption destroyed more than 700 homes.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, the film and TV company behind the James Bond movies, is exploring a sale a decade after the company exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

— You’re probably going to be watching even more television this holiday week than in years past. Times television critic Robert Lloyd has 38 ideas for you.

— Disney+. Apple TV+. Paramount+. How the plus sign won the streaming wars.

— The worst music of 2020: 10 miserable songs from the most miserable year.

BUSINESS

— As California grapples with staggering levels of unemployment benefit fraud, lawmakers and security experts say the state let its guard down well before COVID-19, failing to keep up with what other states have done to flag bogus claims.

— Unfair ratings are costing some Instacart shoppers hundreds of dollars in pay a week. The reason? A system that takes the “customer is always right” mantra to new extremes, some say.

SPORTS

— From Naomi Osaka to Clayton Kershaw, 2020 was the year many athletes found their voices and stood up for justice, columnist LZ Granderson writes.

— Medical experts and coaches around the NBA, unsure of the effects of an unconventional offseason, are expecting teams to be as cautious as ever with their most valuable players, relying on a load management strategy.

— Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers will try to cure what ails the talented Philadelphia 76ers.

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OPINION

Debt forgiveness could help alleviate the staggering amount of student loan debt this country is carrying, but it should benefit the neediest first, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— Mayor Eric Garcetti is staying in Los Angeles, but that’s not enough: He must take bold, compassionate and innovative action to get the city out of crisis mode, the board writes.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— The coronavirus can cause insomnia and long-term changes in our nervous systems. But sleep could also be a key to ending the pandemic. (The Atlantic)

— After a story about a journalist falling for “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, other female journalists say he’s harassed them. (The Cut)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

It started as a way to secure free advertising and free gas. Radio Lazer KLUN-FM 103.1 offered Ricardo Castorena, 47, the use of a station van as he went to the fields each day with his small nonprofit group, Binational of Central California. But with its paint job the colors of birthday cake frosting, Christmas tree lights, red-purple-yellow-blue confetti, Castorena found there’s no better vehicle than a party van when you’re trying to reach farmworkers in dark pandemic times.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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