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Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 12:00 AM
Ending weeks of negotiations between Congress and the White House, GOP leaders on Wednesday night released a $1.3 trillion funding plan for the federal government, an agreement that will result in over $100 billion in new spending in 2018, causing heartburn - and opposition - among more conservative Republicans in the House.
Almost six months behind schedule on their budget work, lawmakers produced a mammoth funding bill, which weighs in at 2,232 pages, the product of extended talks that almost went awry at the last minute.
The bill was highlighted by the inclusion of a number of non-spending provisions, like two measures championed in the aftermath of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which would get more information into the background check system for gun buyers, and to help schools better recognize possible problems with violence.
Each party had a laundry list of items that they trumpeted in a flurry of news releases sent to reporters - for Republicans, that often included more money for the Pentagon, while Democrats focused on more money for domestic programs.
In all, almost 4,000 pages of bill text and supporting materials were released to lawmakers - almost impossible for anyone to read before the votes, which are expected on Thursday.
But we did some speed reading - and here is some of what we found:
1. The Omnibus features more spending from budget deal. Following through on a bipartisan budget agreement from earlier this year, this funding measure adds more money to the Pentagon - raising the overall military budget to $700 billion this year, and $716 billion in 2019. This year's hike was $61 billion: "This is the biggest year-to-year increase in defense funding in 15 years," GOP leaders said in their argument to Republican lawmakers. More money is also added for domestic programs, but that did not match the defense increase, but it was still one reason why Democrats signed on to the agreement. The total for discretionary funding is $1.3 trillion, more than any single year of the Obama Administration.
2. More conservative Republicans not pleased. Even before the details were out on the Omnibus, it wasn't hard to tell what members of the House Freedom Caucus were going to do on this bill - vote against it - even with the big increase in defense funding. "That is not in anyway close to what the election was about, close to what we campaigned on," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). "We all campaigned on changing the status quo," said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). "I think all of us agree we're spending too much," he added. But that was a minority view within the party, as GOP leaders focused more on the big increase in military funding.
3. President Trump backs it with some reservations. After evidently wavering on the details during the day on Wednesday, the President took to Twitter a few hours later to trumpet some of the details in the agreement, and to knock Democrats for what's not in the Omnibus - as there is no agreement dealing with younger illegal immigrant children, known as the "Dreamers." "Democrats refused to take care of DACA," the President said. "Would have been so easy, but they just didn't care."
4. Trump could have had much more for border wall. While the President professed himself satisfied with $1.6 billion in money for border security, Democrats reminded him that they had offered $25 billion for the wall, in exchange for provisions allowing the "Dreamers" to stay in the U.S., and for many to get on a 12-year pathway to citizenship. But for a variety of reasons, the President did not want to accept that kind of an agreement with Congress, as both parties blamed the other for the lack of a deal. As for that $1.6 billion, the bill limits where it can be used:
5. NASA sees a budget boost. With the spending spigot open in this bill, there are very few mentions of cuts in the documents handed out by Republicans, as agencies like NASA instead saw their budgets boosted. NASA - which has drawn strong words of praise from President Trump since he took office - saw its budget go above $20 billion for the first time ever, jumping just over $1 billion. That will be good news to lawmakers in Florida - and many other states - which have a piece of NASA's research and operations.
6. Omnibus includes funds for a new Hurricane Hunter plane. After a round of devastating hurricane strikes in 2017, this spending plan will direct $121 million to buy a "suitable replacement" for a Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter plane, which will insure that enough planes are ready for a busy storm season. For example, in late September and early October of 2017, one of those planes had three separate mechanical problems - but when it was grounded, there was no backup plane. That's long been a concern for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and he noted the provision last night after the bill was released.
7. A big change for the Internal Revenue Service. After years of seeing budget reductions, the IRS was a budget winner in this Omnibus spending agreement, as the agency's budget will go up almost $200 million to $11.43 billion. There will be $320 million specifically dedicated to implementation of the new tax cut law, which was approved late in 2017, in order to change all the forms, schedules, and internal systems to reflect those changes in tax year 2018. $350 million will be directed to improve IRS customer service, which has been suffering more and more telephone delays in recent years. It was a bit of a switch for the GOP to be bragging about how much money they were spending at the IRS, instead of vowing to find new ways to cut the budget at the tax agency.
8. Trump wanted to end transportation grants. Congress tripled them. One piece of President Trump's budget plan for 2019, was a proposal to eliminate "TIGER" grants for infrastructure. But instead of getting rid of that $500 million program, Congress increased it by $1 billion, tripling the size of those popular transportation grants. Mr. Trump's first budget also tried to get rid of the TIGER program, but when you look at the budget, you realize quickly that grant programs are popular in both parties, because they funnel money to the folks back home.
9. The ban on funding for a group that no longer exists. Once again, this year's funding bills from Congress include a provision to make sure no federal dollars go to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform, known as ACORN - even though ACORN has disbanded - that happened eight years ago, in 2010. But Republicans have wanted to make sure that any group which looks anything like ACORN, or might turn out to be a progressive grass roots group which acts like ACORN, doesn't get any federal funding in the future.
10. Death payment for a late lawmaker. Earlier this week came the sad news that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) had died, after the 88 year old veteran lawmaker had fallen at her home. When members die while in office, it is customary for the Congress to approve a full year's salary for that member's spouse or estate. It's officially known on a budget line as "Payment to Widows and Heirs of Deceased Members of Congress." Looking through the fine print - it's actually characterized as "mandatory" spending - and not discretionary.
The House will vote first on the plan - most likely on Thursday. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon after.
Lawmakers are then expected to leave town for a two week Easter break.