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Senate Clears Final Spending Package, Wraps for the Year

December 20, 2019by Jennifer Shutt
Senate Clears Final Spending Package, Wraps for the Year
U.S. Capitol. Dec. 17, 2019. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The Senate cleared two spending packages totaling $1.4 trillion Thursday, sending the measures to President Donald Trump ahead of a Friday deadline.

Debate over the massive packages was tucked in between floor speeches about the House’s Wednesday vote to impeach Trump — making for a strange mix of bitter partisanship over the impeachment process and broad bipartisan support for a wide-ranging year-end appropriations package.

“A lot of hard work brought this appropriations process back from the brink,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday, after rebuking House Democrats for charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., followed up by touting several “wins” for Democrats, including $25 million for the federal government to study gun violence, $425 million to bolster election security ahead of the 2020 elections and $550 million in grant funding to help low-income families afford childcare.

Not all senators supported the appropriations packages, though.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., compared the spending packages to a pizza with lots of toppings — something he apparently isn’t fond of.

“I would love to say that everything in these bills is good, but it is not. People talk about making the sausage here. Quite frankly, I go back and think about the very first time I ever had a bite of supreme pizza,” Lankford said. “I thought that it was going to be great — until I bit into it.”

Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee also lambasted the spending packages, calling them a “fiscal dumpster fire” as well as criticizing both Republicans and Democrats with some holiday pizazz.

“The worst Christmas movie is the one that runs every single year from this chamber right here in this city on C-SPAN … It’s called omnibus,” Lee said.

“The only plot twist this time around is that instead of a continuing resolution or a single omnibus, leaders and appropriators have cleverly put the negotiated spending agreement into two bills, so that we can all pretend that it’s better than just one,” Lee continued. “Even though they were negotiated at the same time, released to the public at the same time and will be voted on within only minutes of each other.”

Shortly after his speech, senators voted 71-23 to clear the $555 billion eight-bill spending package that carries the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-VA, State-Foreign Operations and Transportation-HUD spending bills.

The measure also includes $445 billion in tax breaks and a lengthy list of additional measures.

Before voting on final passage the chamber voted 64-30 to waive a budget point of order raised by Budget Committee Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., against legislating on an appropriations bills.

“This bill has completely bypassed regular order and violates nearly all of the Senate’s self-imposed budget rules with its billions of dollars in giveaways and tax policy changes,” Enzi said. “We are legislating on funding bills — legislation is supposed to be scrutinized differently especially if it pays out real money.”

Add-ons to the bill include measures to increase the age to buy tobacco products to 21 and shore up pensions and health care benefits for coal miners. One of the main drivers of those provisions was McConnell, who is up for reelection next year in Kentucky.

The bill would also repeal three taxes imposed by the 2010 health care law. The $373 billion cost isn’t offset, but the taxes have been panned for years by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

There were political considerations on both sides as well. A House bill to repeal the 2010 law’s tax on health insurers was introduced by Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., who is up for reelection in a district Trump carried by more than 15 points in 2016. The Senate version was introduced by Cory Gardner, R-Colo., representing a state Trump lost by 5 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Gardner and Brindisi races as “toss-ups” in 2020.

A nearly $54 billion tax package would renew or continue deductions for mortgage insurance premiums, college costs and large medical expenses; excise tax breaks for craft brewers and distillers; credits for employer-paid family and medical leave, investors in low-income communities, and faster depreciation for racehorses and motor sports complexes, among others.

The tax package includes an extension through 2022 for lapsed biodiesel and short-line railroad maintenance credits as well as several “technical corrections,” including for churches and other nonprofits that provide employee parking and rural electric cooperatives that could have lost their tax-exempt status.

A few hours after voting on the first package, senators voted 81-11 to clear the $860 billion combo including the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services and Homeland Security appropriations bills. Schumer notably voted “no” on the second package.

The Homeland Security spending bill, a perennial problem child, was one of the more challenging bills to finalize this year. Lawmakers and the White House settled last week on a compromise that would provide $1.375 billion for border wall construction, equal to the spending approved for fiscal 2019.

The measure would allow the Trump administration to keep the reprogramming authority it used to pull $6.7 billion from Treasury and Pentagon accounts to border wall construction.

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Doug Sword contributed to this report.

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