House Passes $1 Trillion Spending Measure
Democrats’ Concerns Add Tension to Vote on Spending Bill.
The Capitol Dome is illuminated amid scaffolding for repairs in Washington, Friday morning, Dec. 18, 2015. The House on Friday easily passed a $1.14 trillion spending bill to fund the government through next September, capping a peaceful end to a yearlong struggle over the budget, taxes, and Republican demands of President Barack Obama.WASHINGTON — The House approved a massive government spending bill Friday morning, setting up Senate votes later in the day that are expected to send that measure and a package of tax breaks to President Obama for signing. Nearly every Republican teamed with 77 Democrats to pass the so-called “extenders” bill, 318-109 — overcoming gripes that Congress was hiking the deficit so it could hand out Christmas gifts to special interests. Ryan made the pledge in October in a bid to reassure members of the House Freedom Caucus reluctant to back him for speaker, because of his past support for dramatically liberalized immigration laws.
Senators planned to vote on the spending measure in combination with a year-end tax plan that would give breaks to working families and a wide variety of business interests. House Democrats are upset over a victory for big oil, while tea party lawmakers say it spends too much money and has too few victories for the Republicans controlling Capitol Hill. Liberal Democrats oppose the bill’s provision lifting the four-decade ban on oil exports, and some said the measure should have addressed Puerto Rico’s financial crisis. With the series of votes, lawmakers were on track to conclude a surprisingly productive, bipartisan burst of late-session legislation in a divided Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) flatly refused to deliver assurances that Democrats would deliver enough votes Friday for the bill to pass, though she gave it her personal support. “They’re in charge,” Rep. Mo Brooks drew up a letter spelling out promises Ryan had made to the HFC behind closed doors, and delivered it to Ryan for confirmation, before entering it into the Congressional Record. Tax breaks on everything from race horses and film productions to NASCAR racetracks, college tuitions and teachers’ out-of-pocket classroom expenses are covered in the massive deal. Ryan called Brooks’ office to confirm the two pledges specified in the letter: It is “unwise or unproductive” to bring any immigration bill to the floor while Obama is president, and as speaker he “will not allow” a floor vote on an immigration bill, unless it is “supported by a majority of a majority” of Republican House members. It permanently extends the enhanced child tax credit and earned income tax credit that were boosted by the 2009 economic stimulus, and extends through 2019 a popular corporate tax break that allows companies to more quickly depreciate the value of new equipment. “This legislation prevents tax increases, creates more job opportunities, and makes it easier for Americans to do their taxes,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “That’s a great gift, an overdue gift, for American taxpayers.” Republicans are less enthusiastic about the 2,000-page government funding measure, which combines separate fiscal 2016 spending bills for every federal agency into one massive bill.
It also delays the excise tax on medical device sales — part of Obamacare that took effect in 2013, but would be nixed in 2017 and 2018, depriving the government of about $4 billion in revenue. Yet the must-pass spending bill Ryan’s expected to bring to the House floor for a vote Friday includes a provision that would dramatically expand the H-2b visa program, allowing businesses to import as many as four times the current number of low-skilled guest workers. More than 50 expiring tax cuts will be extended, with more than 20 becoming permanent, including credits for companies’ expenditures for research and equipment purchases and reductions for lower-earning families and households with children and college students. “Finally, with this tax bill, families and businesses are going to have the long-term certainty that they need instead of scrambling year after year to find out what’s next,” declared House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. GOP lawmakers wanted to add provisions blocking Obama’s policies on immigration, wetlands rules, armor-piercing bullets and other issues, but those didn’t make the final cut.
In terms of the Ryan’s broken pledge and the upcoming spending vote, a representative for the Judiciary Committee simply told TheDCNF the provision will “protect American jobs.” Rep. It awards increases of about 6 percent, on average, above tight spending caps that were a relic of a 2011 budget and debt deal — and were opposed by both GOP defense hawks and Democrats seeking boosts in domestic spending.
Democrats talked up their work in staving off the vast majority of policy provisions, known as “riders,” pushed by Republicans during weeks of negotiations over the 2,009-page bill, which was released shortly before 2 a.m. The measure inserted into the spending bill would exempt visas issued in 2013, 2014, or 2015 from counting against the annual cap of 66,000 visas, effectively allowing up to about 200,000 additional foreign workers into the U.S. job market. These foreigners work in occupations including cooking, hospitality, construction and maintenance for as little as three months and many as three years on the visa. The budget pact is the last major item in a late-session flurry of bipartisanship in Washington, including easy passage of long-stalled legislation funding highway programs and a rewrite of education programs.
Only 79 House Republicans voted for the two-year budget deal in late October that set the bill’s overall spending level, which they think is too high. An Economics Policy Institute analysis of federal data in March found there are many more unemployed workers than job openings in many of these industries. But it does not include provisions barring implementation of Obama’s plan to defer deportations for children brought to the U.S. illegally and some of their family members.
Democrats won the biggest hike in history on clean energy spending in exchange for lifting the ban, but a number of rank-and-file lawmakers said that wasn’t enough to earn their support. The need to win Obama’s signature helped rid the measure of most of the controversial GOP provisions, including efforts to kill federal money for Planned Parenthood, limit the flow of Syrian refugees and undo dozens of Obama actions on the environment, labor, financial regulation and relations with Cuba. The measure contains large spending boosts for veterans and medical research, and funds a familiar roster of grants for transportation projects, first responders and community development. Ryan said the tax portion of the deal will pave the way for Congress to do a broader overhaul of the tax code down the road by narrowing the areas of debate.
It also clears away an almost $1 billion backlog of federal courthouse projects and sends hundreds of millions of dollars to the states and districts of a handful of powerful lawmakers like Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Harold Rogers, R-Ky., the chairmen of the Appropriations committees. The Senate was expected to approve the package and send it Obama later Friday, even though presidential candidates in the Senate such as Republican Marco Rubio of Florida threatened to delay the votes.
But they largely embraced the idea of a government funding bill that lasts more than a few weeks or months. “No one — as it never happens — is going to get everything they want or prevent everything they oppose from being included,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “Businesses and workers across our country deserve the certainty that comes from ensuring that our government remains open and serving the American people.” Ryan said House committees would work with the Puerto Rican government “to come up with a responsible solution” by the end of March. “We’re pleased that the legislation is rid of its poison-pill riders,” said Mrs. Pelosi, who said the backup plan would be voting simply to extend the government’s current funding without any of the bipartisan policy changes that lawmakers had crafted.
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