In 2010, the House leadership made its “Pledge to America” that the GOP would not fill the must-pass government budget legislation with provisions having nothing to do with government funding. The pledge stated:
“We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”
The 1,600-page, $1.014 trillion spending bill violates that pledge in many ways. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) said he know that the current bill violates the promise, but they have to do it “to fix bad policy.” So much for promises made by conservatives.
Hidden inside the spending bill are riders that bar federal funding for most abortions, federal and local funding for abortions in Washington, D.C., and fund for federal prisoners. The good news is that there are no new restrictions. Congress typically attaches abortion funding bans to appropriations measures since the first one, the Hyde Amendment, was passed in 1976. Abortion is legal; paying for it isn’t.
Another piece of good news is that the GOP failed to put the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act into the budget. The “non-discrimination” means that doctors, health insurance companies, and hospitals could discriminate against abortion services, going so far as allowing them to refuse information to women about abortion options. Conservatives also failed to stop tax benefits for small businesses that buy health plans covering abortion. The Title X Family Planning Program, helping low-income women avoid unwanted pregnancies, got the same $300 million as last year; the budget provides $101 million to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and $600 million for international family planning programs.
The best news about saving a few of women’s reproductive rights in the spending bill is that Peace Corps members have access to abortion coverage in cases of rape or incest, or to save the pregnant woman’s life, the same coverage that most female federal employees have. Of 433 Peace Corps volunteers surveyed, 8.8 percent said they had been raped or sexually assaulted during their service.
Another plus for women was the bipartisan commission charged with laying out a plan to bring a women’s history museum “on or near” the National Mall. For almost two decades, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has pushed for the creation of a National Women’s History Museum there.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was another winner because of the spending bill. She lost her push to deny the change to the Dodd-Frank bill that could leave U.S. taxpayers on the hook for a $303 billion bailout to the banks, but her campaign against it fortified progressive groups.
Her information about the provision being written by Citigroup lobbyists also got into the general media. Thanks to the banks, unstable financial entities, called custom swaps, will now be insured by the FDIC. Only the taxpayers will be on the hook when these fail. Citigroup is one of four banks (the others being Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase) that control more than 90 percent of the banking industry’s swaps market. These four banks gave an average of 2.6 to 3.1 times to House members and senators who voted in favor of the banks’ plan.
Federal employees, including the military, got a one-percent pay raise; cuts for military civilian personnel budget may result in layoffs. The Affordable Care Act kept its funding at 2014 levels. The moratorium on state and local online sales taxes on Internet access as continued for just one year.
Republicans can take pride in attaching a rider banning the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and stops President Obama from transferring any of the detainees to the United States. It’s a rather hollow victory because the prison now holds only 132 detainees and 64 of them have already been approved for transfers. Recently four detainees were transferred to Afghanistan, the first time that any prisoners have gone to that country since 2009. President Obama has excellent reasons for closing out the prison:
“It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there.”
One of the best news from the spending bill is that, other than funding Homeland Security only through February, it keeps the government open for another nine months to the end of September 2015. Lawmakers also failed to “defund” the president’s immigration orders, and immigration services won’t stop even if the GOP decides to shut down the government again.
On the minus side, “a House priority,” according to one GOP aide was the provision in the spending bill to stop the EPA from regulating the lead content of fishing tackle and firearms ammunition. The NRA fought to get it included which may make it a “constitutional” right to bear fishing tackle.
The spending bill also protects school children from consuming less salt and all the whole grains that were in the new standards. It does not, however, exempt schools from regulations if they lose money.
Last fall, conservatives, including Blue Dog Dems, fought changing the term “navigable waterways” to “water” to cut down on pollution. A provision in the bill stops the Army Corps of Engineers from regulating farm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act. The $740,000 in the budget bill for the USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services gives the government more money to process applications for GMOs but not to study them. The government also cannot ask farmers to report emissions from their cattle or the manure lagoons. Although “the agriculture sector is the primary source” of methane emissions, the bill keeps ranchers from needing greenhouse gas permits for “methane emissions” produced by bovine flatulence or belching.
The taxpayers will save money, however, because the bill continues a ban on spending money for portraits of Cabinet secretaries, Congress members, and other important people.
The IRS took a budget cut but was ordered to improve its 800 helpline services. It is also specifically prohibited from making any videos “unless the Service-Wide Video Editorial Board determines in advance that making the video is appropriate” and limited in its conference spending. The bill also cautions the IRS not to use any funds to target U.S. citizens for their First Amendment rights or “ideological beliefs.” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is pursuing the agency right down to the end of his term as committee chair.
The spending bill gave other agencies their congressional marching orders. The Department of Treasury cannot use any funds to redesign the one-dollar bill, nor can it build or operate a museum without permission. (But just the one-dollar bill.) The Department of Agriculture can’t use their funds to pay salaries and expenses for those who provide “nonrecourse marketing assistance loans for mohair” or to “procure processed poultry products imported into the United States from the People’s Republic of China for use in the school lunch program.”
The spending bill got bipartisan opposition: of the 40 senators who voted against the measure, 18 were Republicans and 21 were Democrats. One Independent voted against the measure. Three Republicans and one Democrat abstained. Four senators abstained.
House members pledged to not put non-budget items—like the ones above—into the must-pass appropriations bill. This is how they voted: