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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Congress Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

WASHINGTON (CN) - In addition to a $1.1 trillion spending package, sweeping legislation the Senate passed Friday contains a bill that cuts roughly $700 billion in taxes.

The bill reads as a recap of the fights that have dominated the discussion on the Hill in the past year. It contains provisions that prevent the transfer of Guantanamo Bay inmates into the United States, pump up funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, stop federal funds from going toward abortions and freeze funding for the federal health care reform law.

The 2,000-page spending package also reforms a visa-waiver program that has come under fire this month as terror in the Middle East hits western shores.

Specifically, the bill restricts the program from helping anyone seeking to enter the United States from Iraq, Syria or other country or "area of concern."

The tax deal makes permanent a number of temporary tax credits - notably the enhanced-child tax credit, earned-income tax credit, and the research and development credit for businesses.

The Senate approved both bills 65-33 Friday. The omnibus created some unlikely allies, with those who voted against the bill including Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont vying for the Democratic nomination.

The House of Representatives passed the tax bill Thursday night and the spending package Friday morning. The White House signaled its support of the legislation in a statement Wednesday encouraging Congress to pass it.

"The legislation would help to grow the economy and build middle-class economic security by investing in education, job training, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, and research while keeping America safe," the White House statement reads. "Additionally, the legislation is largely free of new unrelated ideological riders."

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the spending package, which the House unveiled Wednesday after a series of delays in getting the agreement past points of partisan friction, is the military. The new agreement bumps up defense spending by $23.9 billion over last year's levels and prohibits the government from using funds to move inmates at Guantanamo Bay into the United States.

It also allows for $1.3 billion more in spending for the Department of Homeland Security, as well as increases in the budgets of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration.

The bill also allows for a two-year pause in the so-called Cadillac Tax on high-end employer health plans, lifts the 40-year-old oil-export ban and provides funds for first responders in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - a cause that brought former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart to the Hill in recent weeks.

These small policy points - referred to as riders - were sources of contention in the bill as the spending levels in the agreement meet those set out in the Bipartisan Budget Act Congress passed in November.

Both Republicans and Democrats attached or tried to attach a variety of riders to the massive legislation, with each claiming victory on some that made it into the final bill.

Republicans trumpeted "pro-life and pro-Second Amendment protections" they were able to get into the legislation, while Democrats hailed their efforts to stop Republicans from rolling back protections on the environment and Dodd-Frank banking regulations.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters after the vote that Democrats used the rider eliminating the oil-exports ban to convince Republicans to allow some provisions bolstering the country's commitment to renewable energy.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said these renewable-energy riders will have the effect of taking 50 million cars off the roads.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blamed the number of riders in the omnibus bill on the administration's regulatory scheme.

"Businesses all across the America have been nailed by this regulatory rampage going on," McConnell said.

He said business representatives came to congressional offices ahead of the vote pleading with members to provide some regulatory relief.

Democratic leadership said the passage of the bill capped of a successful year for the party, and took shots at Republicans for blocking legislation in previous Congresses.

"The way the Senate works is when a constructive, cooperative majority can find a constructive cooperative minority," Durbin said. "That's why this significant bill was passed today, because that happened. We created a positive environment for positive change."

McConnell disagreed with the Democrats' assertions and maintained the passage of the bill signals the Republican Party's ability to govern in a divided government.

"It seems to me a previous obvious lesson from previous efforts to shutdown the government or to default on the national debt that's a hostage you're not going to shoot," McConnell said. "So it's a hostage that isn't worth much. And so I wanted to end those kinds of rattling experiences the American people don't like, that never produces a positive result anyway. So I took those off the table the day after the election."

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