Spending deal clears slate for Paul Ryan and his 2016 agenda

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

The White House announced its support for a deal reached by congressional leaders on a package of spending and tax legislation that would avert a U.S. government shutdown and lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill unveiled early Wednesday morning will keep most of the federal government funded through September — and it’s packed with policy instructions, known on Capitol Hill as “riders,” that will upset or excite Democrats, Republicans and various special interest groups. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told members in a closed-door session Wednesday morning that she did not yet know how she would vote on the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill and asked members to hold off on announcing their decision until they have fully reviewed the bill.

Leaders also released a $650 billion tax package that will extend nearly 50 tax breaks for businesses and individuals and stall portions of the Affordable Care Act. But most members leaving the meeting said they still expect the omnibus spending measure to pass later this week even as Democrats hope to force Republicans to make additional concessions ahead of the vote. “I think the omnibus is probably going to be passed but I do think there is a great deal of consternation about some of the provisions that are in it,” said Rep. President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats oppose lifting the ban on oil exports, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the fiscal package, H.R. 2029, was a success for the administration. “We feel good about the outcome,” Earnest said.

This is the result of a bipartisan, bicameral compromise,” Ryan said following a closed door meeting of House Republicans. “This compromise isn’t perfect, but it is a good, good for the American people. Democrats deflected a number of Republican proposals, he said, including prohibiting federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the women’s health provider, curbing the Dodd-Frank financial law and blocking Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. “In divided government no one gets exactly what they want,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Wednesday morning. Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the agreement a good compromise that includes provisions that benefit both parties without compromising principles. A major tax extender package to renew dozens of expiring tax breaks was also agreed upon — about $750 billion in breaks in all — with some tax breaks lasting just two years while others will be permanent. I really think this is going to help us grow our economy.” “We are pleased that the deal will permanently extend tax credits that help working families make ends meet and pay for college, benefiting 24 million families a year,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Friedman.

For weeks now, negotiators have been working their way through several partisan policy provisions that lawmakers on either side of the aisle have been trying to have included in the Omnibus — commonly called “riders.” “It’s something that I think is very important for our economy,” Sen. But as domestic energy production has boomed in recent years, pressure has mounted from the oil industry and its political allies to lift the ban — even as the United States remains a net importer of crude oil. Passage of the spending bill in the House isn’t guaranteed, although House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, predicted it will have enough votes to pass. The House voted this fall to end the ban, but most congressional Democrats and the Obama administration resisted, calling it a giveaway to the oil business.

Leaders decided to leave out language, however, that conservatives wanted included that would have increased the vetting process for Syrian refugees to enter the country. But Democrats wielded a lifting of the ban as a major bargaining chip in the spending negotiations, winning extensions of green energy tax incentives and other environmental concessions in order to secure the votes of Democrats who would otherwise be wary of supporting an oil-industry priority. The IRS has been working on new rules since 2013, when agency officials acknowledged that agents had inappropriately singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has said the agency doesn’t plan to finalize new rules for political groups until after next year’s presidential election, The tax package would let people who live in states without income taxes continue deducting local sales taxes when they file their federal returns. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, said Pelosi was in constant talks with Ryan looking for potential solutions.

There is also bipartisan support for the inclusion of a couple intelligence acts — the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 and the FY16 Intelligence Authorization Act. “These bills are vital for protecting America’s digital networks and for implementing the necessary funding, authorizations, and oversight for the Intelligence Community,” said Rep. Democrats successfully forced Republicans to include extensions of tax credits for wind and solar producers in exchange for lifting the crude oil export ban. Another Republican win in the bill is a provision prohibiting the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political contributions. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “It is the most significant effort by Congress to address the cyber threat to date, and should now become law,” said House Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Teachers could continue to deduct up to $250 a year if they spend their own money on classroom supplies and commuters could keep getting tax-free transit benefits from their employers.

Ryan, elected speaker in late October, and fellow Republicans want to show they can govern after years of threatened government shutdowns and a 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013. Ryan announced tonight the Omnibus will include delaying a provision in the ACA — known as the “Cadillac tax,” a tax on high-cost healthcare plans — for two years. Asked whether she planned to vote for the fiscal legislation, she said, “You bet I am.” Industry sectors were among the beneficiaries in the massive bill. Noticeably missing from the deal — and a blow to congressional Democrats — is the lifting the nearly 20-year ban on the Centers for Disease Control to study the impact of gun violence. Pelosi held meetings throughout Wednesday with CBC members, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Progressive Caucus to discuss the tax and spending bills.

But an important addition to the bill for the New York delegation was the permanent extension of healthcare benefits to first responders of the September 11th terrorist attacks who are ill because of their time working at Ground Zero. “It forecloses our option of doing real, meaningful tax fairness and simplification, where we could lower the corporate rate and have growth,” Pelosi said. It also maintains a previous rider blocking funding for a program, known as “risk corridors,” meant to shield insurers from heavy losses during the transition to Obamacare. Another notable development with these two deals, in an effort to restore regular order to the chambers, Speaker Ryan announced Wednesday that he and Sen. Commercial and residential solar developers also would be able to claim an investment tax credit for at least five more years, though it would gradually phase down from covering 30 percent of qualifying costs today to 10 percent.

Reid came to an understanding in the last few days that the Democratic Leader would not block individual appropriations bills from coming to the floor next year. “Senator Reid has impressed upon me his desire to get the appropriations process functioning again, and to allow appropriation bills to come up for consideration,” Ryan said. Many of the tax breaks are obscure, including ones that benefit race horse owners, film producers and rum makers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Both Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are confident Congress will pass both of these major bills this week before they are set to adjourn for the year. U.S. meatpackers including Tyson Foods Inc. had sought a repeal and the move may help stave off $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs that Canada and Mexico won from the World Trade Organization earlier this month. Congress also wants the government to rein in a nutrition panel that called for cutting meat and sugar in American diets in a draft of guidelines that upset industry groups and lawmakers earlier this year.

The measure would increase payments to hospitals on the island and provide bonus Medicare payments to doctors and medical facilities that adopt electronic health-record keeping. Treasury to provide technical assistance to the island by authorizing the department to help the island government with areas like budgeting and cash management.

But Congress put a five-year sunset on the program, and the reauthorization, primarily backed by Democrats and moderate Republicans from New York, turned into a bargaining chip for GOP leadership in recent weeks. Republicans did win a modest reduction in funding for the United Nations Population Fund, an organization that has been accused of supporting abortions abroad — a charge the organization denies. But the bill does not defund the Title X family planning or teen pregancy prevention programs or include policy riders that would prevent Planned Parenthood from accessing federal health care funds, allow states to exclude Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, or allow employers to block their employees from recieving insurance coverage for abortion. The spending measure would scale back a program that allows visa-free entry to the U.S. for citizens of about three dozen countries, including much of Europe.

Democrats had pushed to include a provision allowing Puerto Rico to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy to restructure its $70 billion in outstanding debt, but Republicans have balked at measures that could shortchange the territory’s creditors. People who have traveled recently to Iraq, Syria or other countries deemed to have significant terrorist activity would have to go through the normal visa process. The legislation also would ratify an International Monetary Fund plan approved in 2010 to increase the voting share of emerging economies and double the amount of permanent funding available to the Washington-based fund.

The agreement includes House-passed legislation that expands the credit to start-up businesses and allows businesses to claim credits of up to 15 percent of qualified costs. Individuals over age 70 1/2 would also be allowed to directly transfer up to $100,000 from an Individual Retirement Account to a qualified charity without penalty.

The package also includes an expanded tax break for businesses donating food inventory, breaks for charitable donations related to owners of S-corporation small businesses and some modifications for tax-exempt organizations. For one, they have tried to strike down or at least delay the Clean Power Plan rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the first federal effort to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants.

They also floated including language blocking Obama from sending federal funds to the global Green Climate Fund, a centerpiece of the international climate-change agreement reached this past weekend in Paris. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), has said will “support work that helps Americans understand and adapt to forces like sea level rise, severe storms, and ocean acidification” related to climate change. The fund has landed in the crosshairs of some conservatives, notably House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and the three-year renewal is considerably shorter than the 25-year renewal it last received.

Republicans wanted to block a proposed Department of Labor regulation that requires retirement investment advisers not to consider how much commission or what fees could be collected when advising clients. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) first sponsored the policy rider in 1995 to ban public health researchers from gun violence studies has repeatedly said that he regrets the amendment and did not anticipate its consequences.

The latter became a major conservative priority over the summer after a California woman was murdered in San Francisco by a Mexican immigrant who had been repeatedly deported. The effort to pass cybersecurity legislation pitted businesses against privacy advocates, and dragged on for years as lawmakers argued about what limits would be placed on collecting the personal information of individuals who may have been shown to constitute a threat, which agencies would collect that information, and how widely it would be shared across the government. The legislation gained special urgency in the wake of several data breaches at major companies like Target and in the U.S. government, such as the theft of 22 million people’s information from the Office of Personnel Management’s systems.

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