Lawmakers tucked in dozens of items to the spending bill
Items affect everything from financial regulations to white potatoes
Congress must pass bill by Thursday to avert a shutdown
The Congress that has done virtually nothing for two years is wrapping up 2014 with a bang.
Dozens of policy provisions are tucked into a 1,603-page bill that will keep the government open through next September. The provisions affect everything from campaign finance laws to financial regulations, marijuana possession and even the government’s purchase of white potatoes.
The bill, which was negotiated between Democrats and Republicans over several weeks, is expected to get a vote in the House on Thursday – right as Washington faces a deadline to avert another government shutdown.
The provisions are notable because House Republican leaders frequently tout a transparent process. But some of the items added at the last minute to this massive funding bill were never discussed in any committee hearing, or voted on as part of any of the nearly dozen spending bills that were rolled into one package to result in the 1,603-page legislation.
House Speaker John Boehner defended including all these so-called “policy riders” in the spending bill on Wednesday.
“Understand all these provisions in the bill were worked out in a bi-partisan, bi-cameral fashion or they wouldn’t be in the bill,” Boehner said.
Here is a quick list of some of the changes:
Blocking new marijuana legalization bill in Washington, D.C.: Voters in D.C. approved a measure to decriminalize recreational marijuana use last month. But Congress has authority over the city’s finances, so the bill bars the District from using any of its own money or federal funds to regulate the use of pot.
Wealthy donors allowed to give more to political parties: The bill increases the individual limits that donors can give to national parties to help fund conventions, building funds and legal proceedings, such as recounts. The change would effectively allow rich donors to give ten times more than they can today to support political parties. Republicans who pushed for the change say they are substituting more private money for the taxpayer money that was collected for national political campaign committees, but instead used to fund a pediatric cancer bill that passed earlier this year.
More wheat bread for school lunches: Republicans wanted to block new nutritional requirements for school lunches under a program championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. But instead of wiping out the rule, Republicans and Democrats agreed to give local schools more flexibility on how they decided to include whole grain items on school menus.
The sage grouse faces uncertain future: The Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to add the sage grouse - a type of bird found in some western states - to the endangered species list, but Republicans argued that would have a negative economic fallout for energy companies developing resources in those states.
No more taxpayer money for expensive portraits: Committee chairs and other high ranking government officials in Washington often commission large, often very pricey portraits of themselves to hang in hearing rooms. Under the bill they would need to use private money to pay for any new portraits.
Old fashioned light bulbs still allowed: The bill blocks new energy efficient standards that would have made incandescent light bulbs obsolete. Consumers had complained about the new requirements.
White potatoes get top billing: A new provision was added requiring that the Women, Infants and Children program that provides food assistance to low income families include fresh vegetables, and includes an explicit requirement for white potatoes.
Truckers won’t be required to get more sleep: Safety advocates wanted to require truck drivers to get a full two night’s sleep before beginning their new shift on the road, but the bill blocks that requirement.
Farmers get a reprieve from some clean water rules: The deal prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing some of its clean water act rules in some agricultural regions.
Gitmo prisoners can’t come to the United States: The bill bars money for transferring any detainees held at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to any prisons in the U.S.
Banks allowed to use taxpayer money to engage in potentially risky trades: The bill rolls back a provision that was part of financial reforms for Wall Street banks. It reverses a rule that was enacted in 2010 that barred banks from using taxpayer backed funds from trading in derivatives. Democrats argue these often risky trades helped contribute to the financial collapse in 2008.
Blocks IRS from targeting certain groups: The bill prevents any federal money to be used by the Internal Revenue Service to target any advocacy group based on their ideological leanings. This practice is already not allowed, but Republicans wanted to underline it after internal documents showed that some IRS employees targeted some groups when investigating their tax-exempt status.
New sexual harassment training for Hill staffers: The measure requires the Chief Administrative Officer, the office that oversees the thousands of aides working on Capitol Hill, to develop an online training program focused on sexual harassment. Earlier this year, Louisiana GOP Rep Vance McAllister was caught kissing a member of his own staff.
What the bill doesn’t do:
The bill doesn’t block the president’s executive action on immigration. Conservatives wanted to use the spending bill to strip away money for any agencies tasked with implementing the president’s new policy. But the legislation continues funding for the Department of Homeland Security through the end of February.
The deal doesn’t roll back any major portions of Obamacare - it allows for continued funding at the current levels. Last fall the GOP’s effort to defund the health care law as part of the spending bill resulted in a government shutdown, a move leaders pledged they didn’t want to repeat this year.