On Thursday, 12/11/14 the House of Representatives passed, what was essentially but not completely a 1,603 page bipartisan 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill that will allows the Federal Government to continue to function until September 30, 2015, the end of the fiscal year. The bill adheres to strict caps negotiated earlier between the White House and the deficit-conscious Republicans. It is also salted through with GOP proposals which are actually Christmas giveaways to individuals and companies and have nothing to do with the spending budget. The bill should have been passed months earlier but it was convenient for the GOP to keep it hanging as a potential form of blackmail against President Barak Obama until the last possible moment when it had to be passed or its absence would cause a government shutdown.
When Ronald Reagan was governor of California he had a line-item veto over all bills passed by the State Legislature. He could veto any section or group of sections that he thought was or were inappropriate and sign the document for the rest of the bill to become law. But as President of the United States he could either sign a bill, veto it, or do nothing for ten days and allow it to become law. Reagan was not too happy with this limitation but he had to accept it. It would require an amendment to the Constitution to change this practice.
Not only does every bill have to be passed by both the House and Senate but both versions have to be identical. If a word or punctuation is different, then the two versions are not the same. Actually what happens is that the bill goes to a Committee of Congressmen dealing with that particular subject, they discuss the bill, usually modify it, and then send it to the legislative to which they belong with their recommendations. If it is passed then that version goes to the other legislative body, where it follows the same procedure. In practically all cases the two versions are at least slightly different. At that point the bill goes to a Conference Committee made up of members of the two Houses where a final version is then hammered out. This goes back to both Houses of Congress and it then has to be voted upon and repasses by the two Houses. If the bill passes it then goes to the President. After he signs it the bill becomes law. This process generally takes a number of days.
The 1.1 Trillion Dollar Spending Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday, December 11. The Congress was slated to end its session on Friday, December 12th. This meant that the bill had to be accepted exactly as it was if the government was not to shut down the following week when it ran out of money. In fact a short a short extension was also passed in case a few more days were needed to pass the bill.
Keep in mind that according to the Constitution only the House of Representatives can initiate a money bill since initially they were the only group directly elected by the People. The Founders felt that taxes should be authorized by the direct representatives of the People so that the People are, in a sense, taxing themselves.
Also note that there are no rules about what a bill is supposed to contain. It can deal with one subject or any number of subjects. This finance bill dealt with innumerable subjects, many of which had nothing to do with financing the government.
Because of the catastrophe caused by a government shutdown President Obama urged the Senate to pass the bill even though it had numerous amendments that were harmful to individuals or groups within the country.
One of these amendments cancelled a section of the Dodd Frank Act that had been passed in 2010 as a reform measure after the 2008 Bank-Real Estate Collapse to avoid such occurrences in the future and to keep banks from exploiting their depositors and the taxpayers. Presumably the lobbyists for Citibank wrote the measure and it was secretly inserted the night before the bill came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. The insertion rolls back regulations that limit banks from using federal deposit insurance to cover high-risk financial investments. There had been no notice given or debate on this Amendment. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, strongly opposed this insertion as did Senator Elizabeth Warren who called upon the Democratic majority in the Senate to oppose the entire bill if this Amendment was left in.
Another interesting Amendment was trading land with an Indian tribe. A sacred mountain containing a burial ground was to be traded for another piece of land. The sacred mountain was wanted by a company for a copper mine.
Another last minute Amendment dealt with campaign finance, it was extended for individuals. It went from $32,400 to $324,000. Republicans got a 60 million dollar cut at the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) reducing their workforce to the level they had been at in 1989.
Not all Republicans in the House supported the bill. Many of the Tea Party wanted to defund President Obama’s immigration executive order. This issue was left out of the House bill.
In both the House and Senate the bill required the votes of both Democrats and Republicans to pass. In the House 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats voted for the bill. 139 Democrats and 67 Republicans were against the spending bill. In the Senate there were 31 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and 1 Independent who voted for the bill and 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and 1 Independent who were against it. In both Houses of Congress it required the votes of both major political parties in order to pass.
Interestingly the far right and the far left both opposed this bill, both for different reasons. On the far right, Ted Cruz wanted a section added that would limit or eradicate President Obama’s executive order dealing with illegal immigrants whose children had been born in the United States. And on the far left, the Congressmen wanted to remove many of the giveaways that had nothing to do with the spending bill. Cruz, in a procedural vote extended the Senatorial Session into the weekend. He did not get his Amendment to the bill passed. Harry Reed, the majority leader in the Senate, used the additional time to get a large number of Obama appointees approved beginning with the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who had been opposed by the NRA because he had suggested earlier that guns were a disease since they killed a large number of people. By the end of the session, Tuesday, December 15th, the Senate had approved a total of 69 controversial presidential appointments.
The Senate passed the Spending Bill on Saturday and President Obama quietly signed it on Tuesday. Congress adjourned around midnight of Tuesday, December 16th and the new Congress, which will have Republican majorities in both Houses, will meet in January of next year, after the holidays.
It is interesting to note that all that is required for the government to keep functioning is a one sentence bill that states that the Federal Government shall be properly funded for the fiscal year. The 1,603 page bill detailing all the expenditures over the fiscal year is ridiculous. In this bill every item that is to be funded has to be mentioned in detail. For example: Vice President, Joe Biden’s and other top officials in the government’s salaries are frozen. There is no automatic raise for them that was put into law several years earlier but the members of Congress will get their cost of living raise, raising the pay to over $140,000 each.
What happened originally was that several years ago Congress voted itself a raise. The press got hold of the news and published it. People were indignant over Congress giving itself an increase in salary when everyone else was hurting financially. There was a protest and the increase was rescinded. Thereafter Congress passed a law making pay increases for Congress and government officials automatic. From then on there was no protest or even public knowledge that this was occurring. In 2014 Congress has voted through its 1603 page bill not to freeze its own salary but to do so to the Vice President and other high government officials in the Administration. How petty can they get?
Further the bill once again bans funding for abortions. It doesn’t provide any new funding for the health-care law and maintains the current levels for Medicare. The Department of Homeland Security is cut by 336 million dollars in funding. There is an additional 85.2 billion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan, a 2 billion dollar cut from 2013 due to ongoing troop reductions. The bill includes 10.8 billion dollars for Customs and Border Protection. 6.55 billion dollars are set aside for disaster funding. There is 224 million less for embassy security, maintenance and construction than was spent in 2013. The Democrats successfully blocked attempts to limit the EPA, but its budget was somewhat cut. The bill bans the Obama Administration from transferring detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to facilities within the United States. There are several issues regarding weapon control. The bill prohibits any funding that requires that federal contractors disclose campaign contributions. There is a boost for Head start and preschool programs. The bill contains 2.8 billion dollars for detention programs operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bill bars funding to enforce new light bulb standards for lower wattage usage. Military and civilian government employees pay is increased by one percent. They agreed to restore a cut in the cost-of-living adjustments to the pensions of disabled working-aged veterans. The bill bars postal officials from ending Saturday mail deliveries. It provides 157 million dollars for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention programs. There is 5.3 billion dollars for weather reporting. 5.6 billion dollars is provided for school lunches for about 32.1 million eligible schoolchildren.
This is just the flavor of what the bill contains; there is, of course, much more in 1,603 pages.