Congress

Spending bill would fight Ebola, cut IRS budget, freeze Biden’s pay

The U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol McClatchy

A $1.1 trillion spending bill that would keep the government open includes dozens of changes, from money to fight Ebola and the Islamic State, to a potential cut in the first lady’s lunch program, to a freeze of Joe Biden’s pay.

The House of Representatives will vote Thursday on the 1,603-page measure – nicknamed “Cromnibus” because it combines a continuing resolution extending last year’s spending with an omnibus package of 11 of 12 spending bills – to keep most federal government agencies and programs open after the current budget expires. The Senate is expected to vote later in the week.

The White House praised the $1.1 trillion spending compromise that congressional leaders announced Tuesday night, but it stopped short of saying whether President Barack Obama would sign it.

The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 27, allowing the new Republican-controlled Congress a chance to hone in on its immigration sections in the wake of President Barack Obama’s executive action halting deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The massive bill provides $512 billion for defense spending and $492 billion for non-defense matters.

But it also is chock full of funding additions, subtractions, policy changes and a few slices of political pork. Here’s a look:

Increases

– Adds $64 billion to combat the rise of the Islamic State and to fund operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

– Adds $5.4 billion to deal with the Ebola outbreak domestically and overseas.

– Adds $485 million for Eastern European countries to combat growing Russian aggression in the region. Ukraine, invaded by Russia, receives $139 million along with loan guarantees to help shore up its economy and its security.

– Adds $260 million for the Central America Regional Initiative to support Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in their work to provide for children in their countries and discourage migration to the United States. The three countries will receive funds for development assistance, education, health care and security.

– Adds $14 million in education grants to help states with the highest levels of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Reductions

– Cuts $345.6 million, about 3 percent, of the Internal Revenue Service budget.

– Cuts the Environmental Protection Agency budget. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was the fifth year in a row Congress was cutting the EPA budget, slashing its staff to the lowest level in 25 years.

School lunches

– Takes a bite out of first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch efforts by allowing states to seek exemptions from a requirement for whole-grain foods in school lunches if they can prove financial hardship or other obstacles in obtaining whole-grain products.

Regulations

– Among the provisions causing the biggest stir Wednesday was a potentially significant change in the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul, reportedly pushed by Citigroup. The bill would give larger banks more freedom over their derivatives business, loosening controls put on after the 2008 financial crash.

Pay freezes

– No pay hikes for Joe Biden and other Obama administration officials because of a provision freezing pay for the vice president and senior political appointees.

Currency

– Prohibits the redesign of the $1 bill, reportedly because of opposition from vending machine manufacturers, and prevents the consolidation of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the U.S. Mint without congressional approval.

Political money

– Allows individuals to give the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees far more than now permitted for recounts and other legal initiatives and the same amount for each committee’s building fund. This would be in addition to the current $32,400 limit.

“These legislative provisions if they become law will be the most corrupting campaign finance legislation ever enacted,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance watchdog group.

Marijuana

– Blocks the use of federal and local funds to carry out a ballot referendum approved by District of Columbia voters that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the district.

Hairstyles

– Directs the secretary of defense to report to defense congressional committees within 120 days of the bill’s passage on revised grooming regulations for female service members.

Earlier this year, several minority female members of the armed services complained that regulations regarding hairstyles, and the description of the hairstyles, are discriminatory. The Pentagon authorized additional hairstyles. Authors of the cromnibus want to know “how the revised standards addressed the concerns raised above.”

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