Dec. 15, 2014
by Lindsay Koshgarian
Introduction: A Whirlwind Budget Process
What did you do on Saturday night? Here’s what our Senators did: passed a U.S. budget that avoided a government shutdown, set the stage for a February showdown over immigration, relaxed financial investment rules implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act, raised limits on campaign contributions, and made policy changes in virtually every public policy arena you care about.
In case you weren’t glued to your screen last week following the spending bill’s tortured progress through Congress, here’s a brief recap of what happened: Over the course of four days, between Tuesday and Saturday nights (two and a half months into the 2015 fiscal year), lawmakers negotiated and passed a budget to fund most of the federal government through next September.
The spending bill came in at over 1,600 pages, and while it’s the law of the land, it was passed so quickly that budget watchers (and even lawmakers) are still getting a grasp on all of the provisions it includes. What’s clear is that the bill is a confusing mix of cuts and austerity, and avoidance of hard budget choices.
Winners and Losers: Renewable Energy, the Pentagon, Education, and More
- Education: early childhood education, Title I aid to public schools serving disadvantaged students
- Energy: nuclear and fossil energy
- Healthcare: National Institutes of Health
- The Pentagon: war funding, defense contractors
- Budget process and transparency
- Education: President Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative, President Obama’s Preschool for All initiative
- Energy: Renewable energy and the environment
- Transportation/ Housing: public transportation (especially rail)
- Agriculture/ Food: school lunch nutrition requirements
- Government regulation: financial regulation and campaign finance regulation
Highlights from the FY 2015 Cromnibus
- Congress is supposed to pass 12 individual appropriations bills for the President to sign, not one massive bill.
- Instead of passing a budget before the October 1 beginning of the fiscal year, Congress postponed the process until after the election in an act of self-preservation.
- Congress released the 1,600 monster bill barely 48 hours before it needed to cast votes, leaving no time for adequate public scrutiny and reaction.
- The bill provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security only through February 27 to allow lawmakers to revisit and potentially block President Obama’s executive order on immigration, which would provide legal status to roughly 5 million immigrants.
- Reduces Department of Education funding compared to fiscal year 2014 by about $133 million
- Provides slight increases for Child Care and Development Block Grants and Head Start, and continues funding for Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships.
- Provides small increases for Title I grants for disadvantaged students and IDEA special education grants to public schools.
- Defunds Race to the Top, President Obama’s signature education reform.
- Increases the value of Pell grants slightly, but this would have happened anyway under mandatory spending rules.
- Despite small increases for early childhood education, comes nowhere near funding the President’s proposed universal “Preschool for All” program.
- Provides $5.4 billion to combat Ebola spread across multiple agencies, less than the $6.2 billion the President requested.
Energy & Environment
- Continues a trend of declining funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which will lead to the lowest staffing levels at the agency since 1989.
- Prohibits the use of funds to require manufacturers to phase out production of incandescent light bulbs.
- Prohibits President Obama’s requested increase in funding for renewable energy research.
- Prohibits funding for the Green Climate Fund, an international effort to address climate change.
- Increases funding for nuclear energy programs, especially research.
- Increases funding for fossil energy research and development.
- Prohibits new funding for the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare.
- Preserves $12 million in unused abstinence education funds from previous years to be reused for that purpose.
- Cuts funding for the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the group charged under the Affordable Care Act with achieving cost savings for Medicare.
- Increases National Institutes of Health (NIH) Funding, including increases for Alzheimer’s, cancer and brain research.
- Provides over $4 billion (and counting) in funding the Pentagon didn’t ask for
- Bars the administration from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
- Provides generous funds for defense aerospace contractors, avoiding strategic choices about military equipment: from the new, unproven F-35, to proven aircraft like the F-15E, /A-18, F-16, F-18, A-10, and others.
- Slashes military pay raises to 1% from the 1.8% previously planned, and permits an increase in military prescription co-pays, and a decrease in military housing allowances
War Funding/Overseas Contingency Operations
- Includes $64 billion in war funding for the Pentagon, including $5 billion to fight ISIS.
- Provides $1 billion in war funds for a “European Reassurance Initiative” to enhance our military’s presence in Europe, where we are not at war.
- Continues to provide the Pentagon with a ’slush fund’ that is exempt from spending caps that apply to the rest of the government.
Transportation & Housing
- Provides no funding for the President’s requested high speed rail project.
- Reduces funding for AMTRAK by $90 million.
- Exempts small businesses from commercial trucking regulations related to “truck weight limitations, truck driver hours of service, and hazardous material permitting”.
- Prohibits funds for local housing authorities to conduct physical needs assessments.
Agriculture & Food
- Prohibits the government from using funds to enforce sodium and whole grain requirements for school lunches, with strong industry support.
- Protects members of Congress redundant farm service offices from closure.
Debt & Deficit
- Officially abides by the spending limits ($1.013 trillion) of the 2013 Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act.
- However, total spending is actually closer to $1.1 trillion, when you count emergency spending and appropriations from previous years that will actually be spent this year, bringing spending above the Bipartisan Budget Act limit.
- Some categories of spending are not subject to those spending limits –the Overseas Contingency Operations (at $64 billion, more than the total funding level for most federal agencies) and other emergency funding among them.
- Does not account for tax revenue and any tax reform Congress may enact over the course of the year, or even for all spending: the amount of tax breaks, a major category of spending that includes tax extenders the Senate is expected to vote on this week, are not included.
- Limits Dodd-Frank regulations on FDIC insured banks to participated in potentially risky financial deals
- Raises limits on campaign contributions to political parties by ten times. Under the new limits, a wealthy couple could give as much as $3 million during a two-year election cycle to their favorite political party.
- Prevents the Army Corps of engineers from regulating arm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act.
- Prohibits the Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) from blocking coal projects.
- Prohibits implementation of the International Arms Trade Treaty, which “establishes common standards for international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade”.
Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015
FY 2015 Omnibus (House of Representatives Summary)
“Congress Serves Up a Freshly Baked Cromnibus”
Cromnibus Analysis Blog (Taxpayers for Common Sense)
“The Arms Trade Treaty At a Glance” (Arms Control Association)
Photo by Center for American Progress courtesy of Flickr