Here’s what made it into Congress’s big spending and tax bills

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Budget Deal Raises Spending, and the Deficit, Through Tax Breaks.

Don’t expect to see much relief from rising costs for workplace health coverage under a federal budget deal that postpones a widely feared tax on generous insurance plans, experts say. WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators introduced a sweeping year-end spending and tax-break package early Wednesday that busts through previously agreed budget limits with $66 billion in new spending for 2016 and that makes permanent an array of tax benefits at a cost of adding more than a half-trillion dollars to the deficit.A $1.1 trillion compromise reached by US lawmakers to keep the government funded through 2016 includes the bipartisan visa waiver reform, but not the GOP-backed bill restricting admission of Syrian refugees.

House Speaker Paul Ryan meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, as lawmakers work to complete end-of-the-year business and pass a comprehensive spending bill.Congressional leaders agreed to a budget-busting set of tax cuts late Tuesday as part of a year-end, clear-the-decks deal that marks a major reversal from the last four years’ focus on deficits and streamlining the tax code.

The $1.1 trillion spending measure includes a provision to end the 40-year ban on exports of crude oil from the United States — a major priority of Republicans — and also provides a large increase in funds for medical research at the National Institutes of Health. He predicted that the tax and spending bills would get bipartisan support, saying, “I think everybody can point to something that gives them a reason to be in favor of both of these bills.” Even so, House Democratic leaders were urging their rank-and-file members to oppose the package of tax breaks for businesses and individuals, which they considered too heavily weighted toward corporations and was estimated to cost $680 billion over the next decade. From finance companies and manufacturers to teachers and the working poor, there is a tax break for almost everyone in the massive package unveiled by congressional leaders. It also reauthorizes and expands federal aid for emergency workers suffering from health ailments related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. They said they were still studying the spending measure. “In my view it is practically an immorality in terms of how it damages the future,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said about the tax bill.

Under the self-imposed rule by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, that means the lawmakers will not get to vote on it until Friday. Instead, the 233-page document moves away from deficit-cutting and embraces dozens of special tax breaks that presidential candidates in both parties had said they wanted to eliminate. Those included efforts to scuttle an environmental rule expanding federal oversight over domestic waterways, new conflict of interest rules for financial advisers and a labor provision that would have made it more difficult for employees of fast-food restaurants to join unions. The deal explicitly exempts itself from budget rules that normally require all new spending or tax cuts to be offset by tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Senate passage of both measures, which the chamber’s top Democrat said he would support, would be Congress’ coda to a tumultuous 2015 that often saw Republicans at each other’s throats and the forced retirement of former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Absent from the package was the ‘American SAFE Act of 2015’, requiring the top security officials to certify that Syrian refugees did not represent a security threat to the US before they could be admitted to the country.

Just a few months ago top economic adviser Jason Furman warned that repeal or delay would have “serious negative consequences” for the health care system. The bill also incorporates a measure that expands the sharing of information between private firms and federal security agencies to prevent cyberattacks. The accord, which includes victories for everyone from oil companies and working-class families to 9/11 emergency workers and biomedical researchers, seems assured of getting President Barack Obama’s signature.

The Cadillac tax is 40 percent of the value of employer-sponsored plans that exceeds certain thresholds: $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. White House spokeswoman Jen Friedman said the legislation “bolsters our security, grows our economy and reflects our values.” With temporary financing of federal agencies expiring Wednesday at midnight, the House by voice vote approved a stop-gap bill preventing a government shutdown through next Tuesday, giving lawmakers time to finish the long-term spending legislation. In its first year, it would have affected 26 percent of all employers and nearly half of larger companies, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. The tax portion also delays some important provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including the so-called Cadillac tax on expensive private health insurance plans. Backed by the White House, the reform would impose travel restrictions on citizens of 38 countries currently able to enter the US without a visa, if they had traveled to Syria, Iraq, Sudan or other countries deemed terrorist “safe havens” in the past five years.

Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. “Millions of working families with children will not find themselves suddenly taxed into poverty. The tax is indexed to general inflation, which rises more slowly than health insurance premiums, so over time it would affect a growing share of health plans. The compromise would see the ban on the exports of US crude oil lifted in exchange for subsidies for solar and wind energy, and renews the healthcare benefits package for 9/11 first responders and their families, known as the Zadroga Act.

On the more sinister side, the omnibus bill includes the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), allowing companies to share customer data with federal agencies without privacy protections. GOP lawmakers mocked it as a relic that ignored today’s burgeoning U.S. supplies enabled by new drilling methods, while critics called the move an environmentally damaging windfall for big oil companies. They also blocked GOP proposals to thwart Obama administration clean air and water regulations, but many still found the lifting of the oil export ban a bitter pill. But all told, we’ll make sure that we keep government funded and that we advance some of our priorities.” The 200-page tax package covers $560 billion in breaks that will no longer expire, and $650 billion in total tax relief over 10 years. Also included is a permanent extension of the research and development tax credit, created by Congress in the early 1980s as a temporary boost to the slumping economy.

One of the features of the compromise is a deferral of the so-called “Cadillac tax” on corporate health planes, intended to channel funds into President Barack Obama’s flagship healthcare reform plan. Ryan was left effectively apologizing, and described himself as equally annoyed by the way the process had played out. “Let me be the first to say, I don’t think this is the way government should work,” Mr. Taxes imposed to help pay for Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul, which Republicans have long sought to unravel, were curbed — to the applause of the GOP and many Democrats. These included a tax on high-cost health insurance whose scheduled 2018 start was delayed two years, a win for unions, and a suspension in 2016 and 2017 of the 2.3 percent levy on many medical devices.

Language limiting reimbursements to insurance companies losing money on the federal and state health insurance exchanges was retained, despite Democratic efforts to erase it. Many expired tax breaks were renewed temporarily, including reductions for some companies on Indian reservations, race horses and some film and TV productions. The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, of California, voiced outrage on Wednesday over the tax-break bill, which she said would unfairly benefit big business over the middle-class and working-poor Americans. Omitted were two major GOP goals: Language dismantling much of Obama’s health care law and blocking federal money for Planned Parenthood, which would be certain to draw vetoes.

At a brief news conference, she called it “practically an immorality.” The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said, “This was not an easy process,” but noted, “no legislation is perfect. They also said they prevented increases in most Internal Revenue Service operations, though that agency’s overall $11.2 billion budget was $1.1 billion more than the GOP-run House approved earlier this year. To get to that point, however, Congress will need to extend a stopgap spending measure that has kept the government functioning since Friday, when lawmakers missed an initial deadline to complete the spending package. AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner and reporters Andrew Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

Ryan also noted that he had become speaker at a point when negotiations over the omnibus spending bill had already begun between Democrats and his predecessor, John A. Health advocates applauded the increase for N.I.H., which saw funding decline several years ago under budget cuts commonly referred to as the sequester. He said the increase restored the cuts that were part of the budget controls, and increased N.I.H. funding by an additional 4 percent. “We’re going to have a lot of people who will survive because of this.”

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