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'Tis the Season: Congress Passes $1 Trillion-Plus in Spending at 11th Hour

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WASHINGTON – After months of wrangling and backroom negotiations, the House and Senate settled on a $1.1 trillion spending package for the current fiscal year despite strong resistance from congressional conservatives.

The House passed the so-called Omnibus package in a 316-113 vote with 95 Republicans – primarily conservatives – forming the base of the opposition. The Senate quickly followed suit, passing the measure 65-33 with many conservatives and a handful of Democrats casting “nay” votes.

The bill now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign. Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that “the agreement is not perfect, but it will help grow our economy, bolster our security, and it reflects governing by consensus, not the governing by crisis we’ve seen too often of late.”

“Today, the House came together to ensure our government is open and working for the American people,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “This bipartisan compromise secures meaningful wins for Republicans and the American people, such as the repeal of the outdated, anti-growth ban on oil exports. The legislation strengthens our military and protects Americans from terrorist threats, while limiting the overreach of intrusive government bureaucracies like the IRS and the EPA.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, characterized the spending plan as “a good compromise” and “good legislation.”

“When we say ‘compromise,’ it doesn’t mean anyone is doing away with their principles,” Reid said. “What it simply means is that people can’t be bullheaded and unreasonable in what they are doing to accomplish their goals.”

But the measure received pushback from conservatives. The House Freedom Caucus, consisting of lawmakers from the GOP’s right wing, lined up in opposition.

“This deal is an affront to open, accountable and limited government,” the caucus said in a statement. “It plunges our nation into debt to the tune of nearly $20 trillion, busts the spending caps enacted by Congress just a few years ago, perpetuates our looming entitlement crisis by pilfering money from Social Security and contains budget and accounting gimmicks that are manifestly fraudulent.”

But the caucus proved unable to stand in the way. Legislative Democrats and Republicans, along with White House representatives, having been working nonstop for weeks to arrive at a deal, which comes more than two-and-a-half months after the beginning of the fiscal year. The government has been running on stopgap spending measures until differences could be ironed out.

The final issue delaying an agreement centered on Republican desires to end the 40-year ban on crude oil exports, a measure enacted during an era of fuel shortages that the energy industry has desperately sought to repeal. Democrats sought to retain the law, citing environmental concerns.

During negotiations, Reid said Democrats “made very clear to Republicans that if they insist on including the oil export ban, there must be included in this robust policies to reduce our carbon emissions and encourage the use of renewable energy.”

The back-and-forth eventually proved successful: Republicans attained their goal of lifting the export ban while Democrats in return managed to insert several conservation measures. The bill extends tax incentives for wind, solar, geothermal, and other technologies that Reid said will “create and protect over 100,000 jobs in the clean energy sector.” A five-year extension of wind and solar credits is aimed at reducing carbon emissions by roughly 25 percent by the year 2020.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, wasn’t thrilled with the outcome but urged her party to support the omnibus nonetheless, asserting that the compromise further empowered Democrats to reject GOP demands.

“Personally, I was dismayed by Republicans’ insistence on lifting the oil export ban in the Omnibus,” she said. “However, Republicans’ desperate thirst for lifting the oil export ban empowered Democrats to win significant concessions throughout the Omnibus, including ridding the bill of scores of deeply destructive poison pill riders.”

Reid agreed, noting that “many troublesome provisions the Democrats fought to exclude didn’t wind up in the legislation.”

“When this matter came from the House, there were more than 200 so-called riders and they didn’t wind up in the bill,” Reid said. “Many of these riders represented the worst of legislative priorities: weaken Dodd-Frank banking regulations; undermine the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule; roll back the National Labor Relations Board’s joint employer standard; eliminate protections for clean air, water, land, and climate; weaken the consumer protection bureau’s ability to protect consumers; curb the president’s powers under the Antiquities Act to create national monuments; and destroy the candidate contribution limits.”

Republicans also failed in their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of the release of undercover videos appearing to show the women’s health organization negotiating over the price of selling recovered tissues from aborted fetuses for research – a claim rejected by the organization. And it doesn’t block administration plans to admit about 10,000 Syrian refugees looking to escape the civil war in that country. Some Republicans sought to stop their arrival out of security concerns.

“I concluded that while I detest lifting the oil export ban, I will not empower Big Oil to upend so many victories for hard-working American families,” Pelosi said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, called the oil export ban “a relic of the past” that “has cost our economy jobs” and strengthened oil exporters like Iran and Russia. The repeal, he asserted, “will support jobs and grow the economy.”

“It is no secret that Russia views its energy resources as a foreign policy tool,” McConnell said. “It is no secret that Iran views its energy resources as a component of national power, nor is it a secret that President Obama recently granted the Iranian regime permission to export those resources. Many think it is time the American people were treated at least as fairly as Iran.”

McConnell said the deal represents “a critical step forward” in bolstering national security.

“We know that preventing another crisis in military readiness will require significant investments over the near, medium, and the long term,” he said. “For instance, our air campaign over Syria and Iraq has our Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force flying sorties that will further stress the readiness of the force, and those planes need to be maintained, repaired, and ultimately replaced.”

The package, he said, will “finally ensure our military has more of the funding it needs to train, equip, and confront the threats we face from terrorist groups like ISIL and countries like Iran.”

In supporting the deal, McConnell also said it will enact critical reforms to address myriad problems within the Veterans Administration, reform the Visa Waiver Program at a time of “new and evolving terror threats, prevent the transfer of terrorists detained at Guantanamo and adopt a new cyber security information sharing measure.”

McConnell also noted the spending bill will enact reforms to “root out waste” within the Internal Revenue Service aimed at addressing controversies like the one where the agency allegedly targeted conservative groups. And it will prevent a taxpayer bailout of Obamacare despite opposition from the Obama administration.

“This legislation is worth supporting,” McConnell said. “It doesn’t mean this is the legislation I would have written on my own. It doesn’t mean this is the legislation Speaker Ryan would have written on his own either. It is not perfect, and we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted. But it made strides in it defending our nation at a time of global unrest. It advances conservative priorities in several areas and enacts significant reform in several areas on everything from tax relief to energy policy to cyber security.”

Reid agreed.

“I say again, this compromise isn’t perfect, but it is good,” he said. “It is good for the American people. And if it weren’t for Democratic efforts, it would have been a lot worse.”

Praise was far from unanimous, particularly among conservatives.

“The cons definitively outweigh the pros in this omnibus,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). “Not only does this massive spending bill put a tremendous burden on the taxpayers by actually increasing spending, but it continues government funding for abortion mills like Planned Parenthood and allows more Syrian refugees to come into the United States without any safeguards in place. This giant omnibus spending bill defies our core American values and it continues us on an unsustainable path of overspending and debt.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said the Omnibus is “chock full of controversial policies that never would have passed had they been exposed to the light of day.”

“Not only does this bill spend an additional half-billion dollars on an unreformed and failing Head Start program, not only does this bill airdrop an entire cybersecurity bill which lacks important protections for privacy and personal information, but according to the White House, this bill also fully funds President Obama’s Paris climate fund,” Lee said.

“None of these policy changes would have passed by themselves. These are highly controversial policies and merit an open and honest debate on the Senate floor. It is an insult to this body, the Constitution, and the American people, that the least trusted institution in America is planning to sneak these policies through without public scrutiny or amendment. We have doubled down on everything the American people can’t stand about Washington, and many are now congratulating each other for it.”