California posts some wins, some losses in federal spending bill

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California updated reporters as Congress worked to meet deadlines for funding the government, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California updated reporters as Congress worked to meet deadlines for funding the government, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. AP

California ranchers won repeal of country-of-origin labels, but failed to secure a wide-ranging water package addressing the state’s drought in a massive spending bill set for final approval this week.

Sprawling across more than 2,000 pages and committing about $1.1 trillion, the so-called omnibus legislation will sustain the federal government through next September. While relatively shorn of classic earmarks, the nonjudgmental term for legislative pork, it’s still loaded with consequences for California.

Oil producers in the southern San Joaquin Valley will see a 40-year ban lifted on U.S. crude oil exports. Beleaguered salmon fishermen in Northern California will get some relief, and a San Joaquin River restoration program will continue. The state’s liberalized marijuana laws will be protected from federal interference.

“On the whole, it’s worth voting for,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.

Airplane hangar modifications at Naval Air Station Lemoore, fuel facilities for a Fresno-based Air National Guard unit and continued flood-control work in the Sacramento-area’s Natomas Basin, among others, all secured funding.

Beyond funding the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, the omnibus includes a tax package that aids, among others, the wind and solar power industries, as well as farmers who plant trees, vines and fruit-bearing plants.

There’s a lot to be said, pro and con, about this agreement, but I believe the extension of tax credits for solar and wind energy is a game-changer.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The must-pass legislation also includes cybersecurity and intelligence authorization measures sought by the two California lawmakers who serve as the chair and ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, respectively.

“It’s really good for national defense,” Nunes said.

But in the last-minute scramble to board the legislative train, some proposals fell short.

A draconian ban on new Syrian refugees previously approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, with the support of eight California House Democrats and all of the state’s GOP lawmakers, was dropped.

Forest Service officials failed to get the budgeting fix they’d sought to address significantly higher costs of fighting wildfires in states such as California, where some 839,000 federal acres burned this year.

And, despite increased attention from the Dec. 2 San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people died, Democrats failed to remove a long-standing ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducting research into gun violence.

“No one can offer one good reason to keep this ban in place,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

Vexing California’s House Republicans, the final package omits proposals to boost the state’s water storage and redirect water deliveries. Negotiations on a wide-ranging California water bill have never reached the finish line, frustrating plans to include a politically feasible compromise on the must-pass omnibus.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California still plans to introduce yet another version of drought legislation, possibly as early as this week, which will be subjected next year to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and full Senate gantlet.

As partial solace, the omnibus includes $100 million to assist Bureau of Reclamation drought relief projects in Western states.

Some of the same California farmers and ranchers most frustrated by the failure, so far, of water bill negotiations claimed victory, though, in the provision repealing a country-of-origin label requirement for beef and pork.

A World Trade Organization panel ruled May 18 that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling requirements violate U.S. international trade obligations.

The WTO ruled that Canada and Mexico could impose retaliatory tariffs totaling $1 billion. Canada’s published list for potential tariff hikes includes fresh apples, cherries, frozen orange juice and wine.

As often happens, the final budget package softens actions undertaken with great fanfare by the House or Senate. The House, for instance, in May eliminated funding for the ambitious San Joaquin River restoration program. The final package restores $35 million to the program. The final package also dropped a House-approved measure that would have pre-empted states from imposing new label requirements on genetically modified foods.

Still, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., said of the budget bill, “We’re still going through it, but we’re leaning yes.”

Likewise, Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., said he was leaning toward yes, despite being “disappointed that the water stuff wasn’t in there.”

A success at avoiding another partial government shutdown, the bill filed at 1:42 a.m. Wednesday nonetheless underscored enduring flaws in congressional budgeting. Congress is supposed to approve 13 appropriations measures for different fields, such as defense and agriculture, rather than one humongous, make-or-break deal.

“We are trying to be as positive as possible because we must keep government open,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “But we are going to make a knowledgeable vote about it.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10