House passes $1.4 tril­lion fed­eral spend­ing bill

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Tay­lor

WASHINGTON >> The Demo­cratic-con­trolled House voted Tues­day to pass a $1.4 tril­lion gov­ern­men­twide spend­ing pack­age, hand­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump a vic­tory on his U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der fence while giv­ing Democrats spend­ing in­creases across a swath of do­mes­tic pro­grams.

The hard-fought leg­is­la­tion also funds a record Pen­tagon bud­get and is serv­ing as a must-pass leg­isla­tive lo­co­mo­tive to tow an un­usu­ally large haul of un­re­lated pro­vi­sions into law, in­clud­ing an ex­pen­sive re­peal of Obama-era taxes on high-cost health plans, help for re­tired coal min­ers, and an in­crease from 18 to 21 in na­tion­wide le­gal age to buy to­bacco prod­ucts.

The two-bill pack­age, some 2,371 pages long af­ter ad­di­tional tax pro­vi­sions were folded in on Tues­day morn­ing, was un­veiled Mon­day af­ter­noon and adopted less than 24 hours later as law­mak­ers pre­pared to wrap up reams of un­fin­ished work against a back­drop of Wednesday’s vote on im­peach­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The House first passed a measure fund­ing do­mes­tic pro­grams on a 297-120 vote. But one-third of the Democrats de­fected on a 280-138 vote on the sec­ond bill, which funds the mil­i­tary and the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, mostly be­cause it

funds Trump’s bor­der wall project.

The spend­ing leg­is­la­tion would fore­stall a gov­ern­ment shut­down this week­end and give Trump steady fund­ing for his U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der fence, a move that frus­trated His­panic Democrats and party lib­er­als. The year-end pack­age is an­chored by a $1.4 tril­lion spend­ing measure that caps a dif­fi­cult, months-long bat­tle over spend­ing pri­or­i­ties.

The mam­moth measure made pub­lic Mon­day takes a split-the-dif­fer­ences ap­proach that’s a prod­uct of di­vided power in Washington, of­fer­ing law­mak­ers of all stripes plenty to vote for — and against. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was a driv­ing force, along with ad­min­is­tra­tion prag­ma­tists such as Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin, who negotiated the sum­mer­time bud­get deal that it im­ple­ments.

The White House said Tues­day that Trump will sign the measure.

“The pres­i­dent is poised to sign it and to keep the gov­ern­ment open,” said top White House ad­viser Kel­lyanne Con­way.

The bill would also in­crease the age na­tion­wide for pur­chas­ing to­bacco prod­ucts from 18 to 21, and of­fers busi­ness-friendly pro­vi­sions on ex­port fi­nanc­ing, flood in­sur­ance and im­mi­grant work­ers.

The ros­ter of add-ons grew over the week­end to in­clude per­ma­nent re­peal of a tax on high-cost “Cadil­lac” health in­sur­ance ben­e­fits and a hard-won pro­vi­sion to fi­nance health care and pen­sion ben­e­fits for about 100,000 re­tired union coal min­ers threat­ened by the in­sol­vency of their pen­sion fund. A tax on med­i­cal de­vices and health in­sur­ance plans would also be re­pealed per­ma­nently.

The deficit tab for the pack­age grew as well with the ad­di­tion of $428 bil­lion in tax cuts over 10 years to re­peal the three so-called “Oba­macare” taxes, ex­tend ex­pir­ing tax breaks, and .

The leg­is­la­tion is laced with pro­vi­sions re­flect­ing di­vided power in Washington. Repub­li­cans main­tained the sta­tus quo on sev­eral abor­tion-re­lated bat­tles and on fund­ing for Trump’s bor­der wall. Democrats con­trol­ling the House suc­ceeded in win­ning a 3.1 per­cent raise for fed­eral civil­ian em­ploy­ees and the first in­stall­ment of fund­ing on gun vi­o­lence re­search af­ter more than two decades of gun lobby op­po­si­tion.

Late Mon­day, ne­go­tia­tors un­veiled a scaled-back $39 bil­lion pack­age of ad­di­tional busi­ness tax breaks, re­new­ing tax breaks for craft brew­ers and dis­tillers, among oth­ers. The so­called tax ex­ten­ders are a crea­ture of Washington, a heav­ily lob­bied menu of ar­cane tax breaks that are typ­i­cally tai­lored to nar­row, of­ten parochial in­ter­ests like re­new­able en­ergy, cap­i­tal de­pre­ci­a­tion rules, and race horse own­er­ship. But a big­ger ef­fort to trade re­fund­able tax cred­its for the work­ing poor for fixes to the 2017 GOP tax bill didn’t pan out.

The sweep­ing leg­is­la­tion, in­tro­duced as two pack­ages for po­lit­i­cal and tac­ti­cal pur­poses, is part of a ma­jor fi­nal burst of leg­is­la­tion that’s pass­ing Congress this week de­spite bit­ter par­ti­san di­vi­sions and Wednesday’s likely im­peach­ment of Trump. Thurs­day prom­ises a vote on a ma­jor re­write of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, while the Se­nate is about to send Trump the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill for the 59th year in a row.

The core of the spend­ing bill is formed by the 12 an­nual agency ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills passed by Congress each year. It fills in the de­tails of a bi­par­ti­san frame­work from July that de­liv­ered about $100 bil­lion in agency spend­ing in­creases over the com­ing two years in­stead of au­to­matic spend­ing cuts that would have sharply slashed the Pen­tagon and do­mes­tic agen­cies.

The in­crease in the to­bacco pur­chas­ing age to 21 also ap­plies to e-cig­a­rettes and va­p­ing de­vices and gained mo­men­tum af­ter Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell signed on.

Other add-ons in­clude a va­ri­ety of pro­vi­sions sought by busi­ness and la­bor in­ter­ests and their lob­by­ists in Washington.

For busi­ness, there’s a seven-year ex­ten­sion of the char­ter of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, which helps fi­nance trans­ac­tions ben­e­fit­ing U.S. ex­porters, as well as a re­newal of the gov­ern­ment’s ter­ror­ism risk in­sur­ance pro­gram. The fi­nan­cially trou­bled gov­ern­ment flood in­sur­ance pro­gram would be ex­tended through Septem­ber, as would sev­eral visa pro­grams for both skilled and sea­sonal work­ers.

La­bor won re­peal of the so-called Cadil­lac tax, a 40% tax on high-cost em­ployer health plans, which was orig­i­nally in­tended to curb rapidly grow­ing health care spend­ing. But it dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected high-end plans won un­der union con­tracts, and Demo­cratic la­bor al­lies had pre­vi­ously suc­ceeded in tem­po­rary re­peals.

Democrats con­trol­ling the House won in­creased fund­ing for early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion and a va­ri­ety of other do­mes­tic pro­grams. They also won higher Med­i­caid fund­ing for the cash­poor gov­ern­ment of Puerto Rico, which is strug­gling to re­cover from hur­ri­cane dev­as­ta­tion and a re­sult­ing eco­nomic down­turn.

While Repub­li­cans touted de­fense hikes and Democrats reeled off nu­mer­ous in­creases for do­mes­tic pro­grams, most of the pro­vi­sions of the spend­ing bill en­joy bi­par­ti­san sup­port, in­clud­ing in­creases for med­i­cal re­search, com­bat­ing the opi­oid epi­demic, Head Start, and child­care grants to states.

Democrats also se­cured $425 mil­lion for states to up­grade their elec­tion sys­tems, and they boosted the U.S. Cen­sus bud­get $1.4 bil­lion above Trump’s re­quest. They won smaller in­creases for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, re­new­able en­ergy pro­grams and af­ford­able hous­ing.

“I am so proud that we are able to do so much good for chil­dren and fam­i­lies across the coun­try and around the world,” said House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

The out­come in the lat­est chap­ter in the long­stand­ing bat­tle over Trump’s bor­der wall awards Trump with $1.4 bil­lion for new bar­ri­ers — equal to last year’s ap­pro­pri­a­tion — while pre­serv­ing Trump’s abil­ity to use his bud­get pow­ers to tap other ac­counts for sev­eral times that amount. That’s a blow for lib­eral op­po­nents of the wall but an ac­cept­able trade-off for prag­matic-minded Democrats who wanted to gain $27 bil­lion in in­creases for do­mes­tic pro­grams and avert the threat of sim­ply fund­ing the gov­ern­ment on au­topi­lot.

“Many mem­bers of the CHC will vote against it,” said Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus Chair­man Joaquin Cas­tro, D-Texas. “It’s true that there are a lot of good things and Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in the spend­ing agree­ment. I think ev­ery­body ap­pre­ci­ates those. What mem­bers of the His­panic Cau­cus are con­cerned with is the wall money, the high level of de­ten­tion beds, and most of all with the abil­ity of the pres­i­dent to trans­fer money both to wall and to de­ten­tion beds in the fu­ture.”

The bill also ex­tends a long­stand­ing freeze on law­mak­ers’ pay de­spite be­hind-the-scenes ef­forts this spring to re­vive a cost of liv­ing hike ap­proved years ago but shelved dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Be­cause dozens of Democrats op­pose the bor­der wall, Pelosi paired money for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity with the al­most $700 bil­lion Pen­tagon bud­get, which won more than enough GOP votes to off­set Demo­cratic de­fec­tions.

The coal min­ers’ pen­sion pro­vi­sion, op­posed by House GOP con­ser­va­tives like Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had the back­ing of Trump and pow­er­ful Se­nate GOP Leader McCon­nell in ad­di­tion to Democrats like Pelosi and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The U.S. Capi­tol is shrouded in mist Fri­day night. The Demo­cratic-con­trolled House voted Tues­day to pass a $1.4 tril­lion gov­ern­ment-wide spend­ing pack­age, hand­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump a vic­tory on his U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der fence while giv­ing Democrats spend­ing in­creases across a swath of do­mes­tic pro­grams.

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