Congress Unveils Massive Spending Bill To Fund Government

Dec 16, 2015
Originally published on December 17, 2015 6:47 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's nothing better to get you in the holiday mood than thumbing through 2,000 pages of legislation. That's what members of Congress and their staffs are doing right now to be able to get out of town. Negotiators reached agreement late last night on two major bills - a year on spending measure and a bill that would extend tax breaks for individuals and families. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports on the $1 trillion government funding measure.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The last two items Congress needs to put to bed before it kisses 2015 goodbye are behemoths - how to fund the government for another year and how to extend hundreds of billions of dollars of tax breaks. The spending bill or omnibus is unpopular to Republicans and the tax bill is unpopular to Democrats, so leaders are pairing the bills, hoping the haters of one bill will save the other. Here's how House speaker Paul Ryan spun it.

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PAUL RYAN: We are finally delivering on one of those tax policies we've been trying to for years to get - certainty in the tax code so that we can create more jobs. I think this is one of the biggest steps toward a rewrite of our tax code that we have made in many years, and it will help us start a progrowth, bold tax reform agenda in 2016.

CHANG: It's lofty language that's lost on Democrats who say the package of tax breaks mainly helps big business. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has made her distaste well known, but she knows it will be largely up to her caucus to get the other bill, the spending bill, across finish line.

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NANCY PELOSI: We are trying to be as positive as possible because we must keep government open.

CHANG: And for some hard-line conservatives, that spending bill is a travesty because it does nothing to defund Planned Parenthood and, most aggravating to Republican Matt Salmon of Arizona, the bill does nothing to pause the Syrian refugee resettlement program.

MATT SALMON: The Syrian refugee vetting issue to me is just common sense. We won that issue on the floor overwhelmingly. I'm really disappointed that we didn't fight the fight.

CHANG: But there was enough common ground to include changes to the visa waiver program so people who've traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria in the last five years and who wish to enter the U.S. will be scrutinized more closely. Other policy provisions made it in the spending bill, too, like a measure beefing up cyber security, another renewing the health care program for 9/11 responders and another measure ending the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. Lifting that ban was a favor to Republicans, but Tim Huelskamp of Kansas says it wasn't enough.

TIM HUELSKAMP: I will say - very big deal for my district, but didn't have a single call about it. So - but calls are coming in about Syria. Calls are coming in about life issues. Calls come in about everything else.

CHANG: Still, hard-line conservatives like Huelskamp who weren't crazy about the spending get bill noticeably refrained from blaming Speaker Ryan for any missteps. Republican Mark Meadows of North Carolina said regardless of the final language, the process was inclusive.

MARK MEADOWS: You know, I can tell you that I've had more meaningful conversations with the speaker and leadership in the last couple of weeks than I think I have in the last couple of years. So I would give it an A-plus in terms of trying to reach out to the rank and file.

CHANG: But many of the most conservative House Republicans are not expected to vote yes on the spending bill. House Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland says they're just counting on Democrats to bail them out of a government shutdown.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: They'll sit back and others and not look for the omnibus bill while those who - of us who have come to make government work - sure we're going to have to hold our nose at some things that we may not like in certain bills. But that's the way our system is made.

CHANG: A stopgap spending measure will buy Congress a few more days to work things out. Both chambers hope to pass the omnibus bill by this Friday, right before they head out of town for the holidays. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.