House Approves $1.4 Trillion Spending Plan

December 17, 2019 by Dan McCue
The George Washington statue and ceiling in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The House voted Tuesday to pass a $1.4 trillion government-wide spending package, despite a disagreement over $1.4 billion for President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The two-bill package ballooned to some 2,371 pages after several tax provisions were added into the mix Tuesday morning.

The first measure, funding domestic programs, passed on a 297-120 vote. But scores of mostly Hispanic and Latino Democrats declined to support the second measure, which funds the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, because it also includes funding for Trump’s border wall.

Nevertheless, the measure passed by a 280-138 vote, handing Trump a victory less than 24 hours before the House is expected to vote to impeach him.

The spending bill ends the threat of a government shutdown this week and follows months of negotiations over spending priorities. The White House has already said Trump will sign the measure.

But the bills also drew criticism from budget hawks on Tuesday who objected to an extension of expiring tax breaks and the permanent repeal of an Obama-era 40% tax on high-cost health plans benefits.

It has been estimated that the combined tax cuts will swell the federal deficit by $428 billion.

Other recent additions to the bills include a provision to finance health care and pension benefits for about 100,000 retired union coal miners threatened by the insolvency of their pension fund, and another that increases the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The age increase also applies to e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

Wins for the House Democrats included $425 million for states to upgrade their election systems and a boost of the U.S. Census budget $1.4 billion above Trump’s request.

They also won increased funding for early childhood education, a 3.1% raise for federal civilian employees, and the first installment of funding on gun violence research.

“All Democrats can take great pride in this strong appropriations package, which achieves critical victories for the health, financial security and well-being of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday.

She went on to say that thanks to Democratic efforts, the spending plan includes significant investments in life-saving medical research at the National Institutes of Health, and “honors our responsibility to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the territories by extending and increasing urgently-needed, life-saving Medicaid funding for two years.”

“Nobody … believes this is a perfect bill,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the House floor. “But it is a work product worthy of the Appropriations Committee and the House of Representatives and of our country. It makes compromises … but it achieves key priorities and will avert a damaging government shutdown and give certainty to agencies, as they move forward in the next nine months of the fiscal year, as to what resources they’re going to have available to get their job done.”

Among the dissenting voices was Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, who lambasted the spending bill as “yet another example of the unwillingness of Republicans and Democrats to make tough decisions surrounding our excessive spending and national debt.”

“This package will skyrocket our national debt—jeopardizing the future of Social Security and Medicare, failing to prepare for the 70 million Baby Boomers who are beginning their retirement, and saddling future generations with massive debt because Congress keeps passing bills that aren’t paid for,” he said.

The majority of the provisions of the spending bill enjoy bipartisan support.

Among the business-friendly measures in the budget is 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.

Also extended were several visa programs for both skilled and seasonal workers.

Though many in Congress saw voting in favor of funding for the border wall as a trade-off for garnering an additional $27 billion for domestic programs, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was not among them.

“It’s true that there are a lot of good things and Democratic victories in the spending agreement. I think everybody appreciates those,” Castro said.

“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,” he said.

Anticipating the revolt, Speaker 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.

“This budget deal just keeps getting worse,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “When will the madness stop?”

MacGuineas was particularly aggrieved by the tax extenders incorporated into the spending package.

“Many of these temporary special-interest tax provisions expired at the end of 2017. Bringing these costly temporary tax provisions back from the dead is not just bad fiscal policy, it is bad tax and economic policy as well,” she said. 

MacGuineas also said the package violate the House’s pledge to abide by pay-as-you-go-rules.

“Passing hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts should not be needed just to keep the government open. Policymakers should reject adding to the debt with a year-end spending deal and instead pass clean appropriations bills to keep the government funded,” she said.

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