WASHINGTON—The Senate voted Dec. 19 on a nearly 1.4 trillion spending package to keep the federal government funded and avert a shutdown before the Christmas holiday.
The 12 appropriations measures were passed in two separate bills, which would fund the government through Sept. 30, 2020. The first package that covers eight appropriations bills passed by a 71-23 vote. The second was approved by a vote of 81-11.
The House took the first step and approved the funding bills on Dec. 17. President Donald Trump is “poised” to sign the bills when they reach his desk.
The massive government funding package, more than 2,300 pages long, was released a day before the House vote giving members virtually no time to read or offer amendments.
The package covers approximately $1.4 trillion in discretionary government spending that includes $738 billion in military funding and $632 billion in non-defense spending.
What’s in the Package?
The bipartisan spending deal agreed on by congressional leaders and the White House increases defense spending by $22 billion in fiscal year 2020 from last year. The funding boost will help the Pentagon’s modernization efforts, advance the F-35 combat jet program, and expand the Navy’s fleet.
The spending package also includes a 3.1 percent raise for both members of the military and federal civilian employees. In addition, for the first time in 20 years, it provides $25 million for gun violence prevention research. The deal also allocates $425 million for election security grants.
The age to purchase tobacco products is increased to 21 from 18, in the spending measure. In an effort to combat the youth vaping problem, the ban will apply to both cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.
The deal also reauthorizes the U.S. Export-Import Bank, providing it a seven-year mandate, the longest in the credit agency’s history.
The Trump administration has been urging Congress to revive the bank for both economic and national security reasons. Some Republicans and advocacy groups, however, have been opposing the bank, calling it “corporate welfare.”
There is a massive taxpayer-funded bailout of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union pension buried in the deal as well. According to critics, this is the first of many more costly rescues.
“This will be the first time in history that Congress uses taxpayer dollars to fund the over-extended and under-funded pension plans of private-sector unions and private employers — in this case, to the tune of roughly $6 billion for coal miners,” Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at Conservative Partnership Institute wrote in The Federalist.
The Border Wall
One of the thorny issues in negotiations between the White House and Democrats was the funding for the construction of a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. The deal awards the Trump administration more than $1.37 billion for the border wall—equal to last year’s funding level. This is significantly less than the $8.6 billion the president had requested.
The deal, however, is a win for Trump as it preserves his authority to transfer funds for the wall from other accounts.
In February, Trump declared the border situation a national emergency, which allowed him to redirect more than $6 billion from the Pentagon toward wall construction despite Democrats’ objections.
Trump is “poised to sign” the spending measures to keep the government open, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Dec. 17.
The border wall funding was a major source of conflict between the White House and Democrats at the end of 2018, triggering a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
“A year after [Democrats] called it a manufactured crisis, the president is getting $1.375 billion for his wall, and they didn’t mess with his authorities at all,” Conway added. “There’s a lot of good stuff in there.”
In the three years since Trump took office, the administration has built 89.5 miles of border wall as of Dec. 6, a senior administration official told The Epoch Times.
In fiscal year 2020, the administration plans to build approximately 300 miles, with $8.6 billion from Homeland Security and Pentagon accounts, the official added.
Republicans managed to maintain the status quo in the abortion-funding battle.
In March, the Trump administration issued new rules to block the availability of Title X grants to clinics that provide abortions or offer abortion referrals. It also prevented foreign aid funds from going to organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. Democrats had sought to reverse those prohibitions in the funding bills through “poison pill” riders, but failed.
Abortion-rights advocates reacted to the news.
“Congress had the chance–but failed—to protect reproductive health care in the U.S. and abroad in the 2020 spending bill,” Planned Parenthood Action, a nonprofit advocacy group, stated on Twitter on Dec. 16. “Both the Title X and global gag rules stand, threatening access to birth control and other care for millions.”
However, “it’s not a total win” for Republicans, said Bovard.
According to Bovard, a package of “tax extenders” was added to the bill at the last minute, which renewed several tax breaks. Those included the two extensions of Obamacare tax subsidies, expanding abortion coverage.
A deal on tax extenders renewed numerous tax provisions—that expired or set to expire—through 2020, including excise tax breaks for craft brewers and distillers and faster depreciation for racehorses and motor sports complexes.
According to a report by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the tax extenders together with the repeal of taxes could result in $500 billion of additional debt over the next decade.
The package permanently repeals Obamacare’s three oft-postponed taxes: the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health insurance plans, the tax on health insurers, and the medical device tax. These cost almost $400 billion over a decade, the report stated and tax extenders, as well as interest, add another $100 billion cost on top.
The Congressional Budget Office earlier estimated that the budget deal agreed to by congressional leaders and the White House would increase deficits by nearly $1.7 trillion over a decade, assuming that spending continues to grow at the rate of inflation beyond 2021.