Late Tuesday, just one month one week after voters handed the Republican Party majority control of both the House and the Senate, Congressional leaders unveiled a massive $1.01 trillion spending bill to keep most of the federal government funded through September 2015.
Below are some of the highlights of the spending bill as summarized by Ed O’Keefe for The Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2014. I’ve categorized the bill’s items into two groups:
- What’s wrong about the bill
- What’s right about the bill
What’s wrong about the spending bill
1. ENABLE OBAMA’S RECKLESS INVASION OF ILLEGALS
Although the bill funds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that oversees most immigration policy only until February, the bill also provides new money for immigration programs at other federal agencies, including:
- $948 million for the Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) unaccompanied children program — an $80 million increase — to provide health and education services to illegal young aliens.
- $14 million to help school districts absorb new illegal immigrant students.
- $260 million to the State Department to assist Central American countries from which the illegal immigrant children are coming.
2. KEEP, INSTEAD OF DEFUND, OBAMACARE
The spending bill adopts a passive-aggressive approach to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare:
- The bill still funds Obamacare.
- But no new money will be provided for Obamacare, specifically, no new Obamacare-related funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the two agencies most responsible for implementing the law.
- The budget of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, aka the “death panel,” will be reduced by $10 million.
3. ENABLE BIG MONEY CAMPAIGN DONATION
The bill would greatly expand the amount of money — 10 times the current amount — that wealthy political donors could inject into the national parties, thereby drastically undercutting the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul. To illustrate, a donor who gave the maximum $32,400 this year to the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee would be able to donate another $291,600 on top of that to the party’s additional arms — a total of $324,000, ten times the current limit. Read more on this here.
What’s right about the bill
- The bill once again bans using federal funding to perform most abortions.
- Blocks the use of local and federal funding for abortions in the District of Columbia.
- Blocks the use of federal dollars for abortions for federal prisoners.
- Directs the HHS secretary to ensure that consumers shopping for health-care coverage on the federal exchange can tell whether a plan covers abortion services.
- The IRS’s budget will be reduced by $345.6 million.
- The IRS is banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs and political partisanship.
- The agency’s budget will again be reduced — by $60 million to $8.1 billion. (The EPA’s budget has been slashed by $2.2 billion, or 21%, since fiscal 2010.)
- The reduction in budget means the EPA will have to reduce its staffing to the lowest levels since 1989.
4. FEDERAL EMPLOYEE PAY, PERKS, AND PENSION
Note: The average federal employee makes $35,774 more than the average American, but it’s average Americans who pay the taxes that pay the bloated salaries of government employees.
- The bill allows a 1% pay raise for federal government workers which was ordered by Obama to take effect in January.
- Pay freeze for the vice president (Joe Biden) and senior political appointees.
- Spending for certain conferences, official travel and some employee awards will be banned or limited.
- Government officials in the Executive Branch, lawmakers and heads of legislative agencies will have to pay or raise the funds for their official portraits.
- For the first time, the benefits of current retirees could be severely cut, part of an effort to save some of America’s most distressed pension plans. Read more on this here. See also “Thousands of federal retirees get 6-figure pensions.”
5. MILITARY PAY
- Military service members will receive a 1% pay increase next year.
- But there’s a pay freeze for generals and flag officers.
- The bill also ends a 5% discount on tobacco and tobacco-related products sold at military exchanges.
After a year of embarrassing scandals at VA hospitals (see “Veterans die while waiting for MONTHS to see a doctor at VA hospitals” and “Phoenix VA hospital changed records to make patients who’d died waiting for treatment appear alive”), Congress is making good on promises to provide more money and oversight.
- The spending bill provides a total of $159.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending for military veterans, including an added $209 million to address new costs related to the bipartisan veterans’ reform bill passed last summer calling for adding medical staff and expanding dozens of facilities.
- To specifically addressing the “wait list” scandal, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ inspector general is getting a $5 million budget increase to continue investigating lapses in patient care.
7. COMMON CORE
- The bill cuts funding for Obama’s signature education initiative “Race to the Top” — a big blow to his education legacy.
- Funding for the Education Department is reduced by $133 million to a total of $70.5 billion, but special education grants to states would get $25 million more than last year, up to $11.5 billion.
- No funding for Common Core State Standards. (See “Bizarre Common Core math” and “Common Core workbook teaches 2nd Amendment pertains only to REGISTERED arms” and “Common Core: Wrong answer is fine – just explain how you got there”.)
8. SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM
The spending bill takes a hit at Michelle Obama’s school lunch nutritional changes by:
- Allowing more flexibility to school districts to implement new whole grain nutrition standards “if the school can demonstrate a hardship” when buying whole grain products.
- Relaxing new sodium standards until they are “supported by additional scientific studies.”
9. FOOD SAFETY
The spending bill increases funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $37 million, to a total of $2.589 billion, including:
- $27 million in new funding for the Food Safety Modernization Act
- $1.016 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service — an increase of $5 million from last year.
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10. LIGHT BULBS
The bill prohibits new standards that would ban the use of incandescent bulbs. In other words, we can continue to buy and use those light bulbs, instead of the more expensive LEDs that environmentalists want to impose on us.
Dr. Eowyn’s post first appeared at Fellowship of the Minds.