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A Few Highlights — Or Lowlights — From the Omnibus
Posted at 10:12 p.m. on Jan. 13
On Monday evening, appropriators from both chambers unveiled a massive omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the end of September, the culmination of just a few weeks of work and bipartisan negotiations.
The House is expected to pass the 1,582-page package of all 12 appropriations bills this week, if for no other reason than to dispel anxiety over another government shutdown and encourage a return to the age of “regular order.”
But, as with any major piece of legislation, the final product necessitated some compromises, and there are policy riders that are sure to ruffle feathers from members on both sides of the aisle — even if they won’t be enough to sink the whole ship.
Here are a handful of the provisions House lawmakers will have to swallow in the name of passing the spending bill:
Obamacare — Republicans might be pleased that the omnibus doesn’t contain any new funding for the health care law they so revile, though some of them, particularly those who held the line during the shutdown, might not be satisfied with any government spending bill that doesn’t defund or dismantle some or all parts of the law entirely. The more conservative wing of the House Republican Conference will be worth watching when the omnibus comes to the floor later this week.
Anti-Abortion Provisions - As has been the case in the past, Democrats have had to hold their noses go along with policy riders that restrict federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment of a mother’s life. But they fought off efforts to expand the anti-abortion riders.
School Vouchers — Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and others won the battle over including $16 million in the omnibus to fund a program that lets low-income students in Washington, D.C., apply for vouchers to attend the private or parochial schools of their choice. Opponents of the initiative — primarily Democrats — say it takes money away from public and public charter schools. Some Democrats who stand in solidarity with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., say it’s unfair that Congress should dictate education policy to the city at all.
House Operations — Lawmakers have been stretched thin by the budgets to run their congressional offices. In the 112th Congress, austerity measures slashed the so-called Members’ Representational Allowance by 11.4 percent across the board, and the trigger of sequestration knocked it down by nearly 20 percent. The omnibus maintains the sequester-level MRA allocation, which will be a continued strain on members struggling to pay staffers competitive salaries and communicate effectively with their constituents, among other things.
Benghazi — House Republicans on all rungs of the seniority ladder have sought to place blame squarely on Obama administration officials for the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, through messaging platforms and full-scale committee investigations. So far, they haven’t accomplished much beyond scoring political points, but they might have won something via this policy rider in the omnibus: According to an official summary, the bill would include “a prohibition on aid to Libya until the Secretary of State confirms Libyan cooperation in the Benghazi investigation.”
Light bulbs — Republicans lauded a provision banning enforcement of a new ban on manufacturing old-fashioned, incandescent light bulbs. The light bulb ban, a legacy of legislation enacted under President George W. Bush, has recently become a cause among some conservative circles.
Post offices — The Heritage Foundation complained that the bill would preserve unprofitable Saturday mail delivery and prevent the closure of unprofitable rural post offices.
Guantanamo Bay — Democrats have been disappointed with President Barack Obama’s yet-to-be-fulfilled promise to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and they’re bound to be disappointed again with the omnibus language prohibiting funding for transfers of Guantanamo prisoners to facilities elsewhere in the United States or territories. The prohibition is similar to that contained in the defense appropriations legislation for fiscal 2013, but it’s still a blow with only two years left in Obama’s presidency to finish the job.
Bereavement Payment — The bill provides for the customary bereavement payment of $174,000, or one year’s salary, to Beverly A. Young, the window of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the recently deceased chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. It’s not typically a controversial payment, but such an allocation made last year to the widow of late-Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., caught attention of some outside groups.