Massive bill calls for USD1.4T in federal spending

WASHINGTON (AP) – House leaders unveiled a USD1.4 trillion government-wide spending package with an unusually large load of unrelated provisions catching a ride on the last train out of Congress this year.

A House vote was held yesterday on the sprawling package, some 2,313 pages long, as lawmakers wrapped up reams of unfinished work – and vote on impeaching United States (US) President Donald Trump.

The legislation would forestall a government shutdown this weekend and give Trump steady funding for his US-Mexico border fence. The year-end package is anchored by a USD1.4 trillion spending measure that caps a difficult, months-long battle over spending priorities.

The mammoth measure made public on Monday takes a split-the-differences approach that’s a product of divided power in Washington, offering lawmakers of all stripes plenty to vote for – and against. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, was a driving force, along with administration pragmatists such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who negotiated the summertime budget deal that it implements.

Trump hasn’t said for sure that he’ll sign the measure. He invariably has second thoughts, but he’s not interested in another government shutdown and has always bowed to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, when they’ve teamed up on compromise spending packages.

Retired coal miners and labour union opponents of Obama-era taxes on high-cost health plans came away with big wins in weekend negotiations by top congressional leaders and the Trump White House.

The bill would also increase the age nationwide for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21, and offers business-friendly provisions on export financing, flood insurance and immigrant workers.

The roster of add-ons grew over the weekend to include permanent repeal of a tax on high-cost “Cadillac” health insurance benefits and finance health care and pension benefits for about 100,000 retired union coal miners threatened by the insolvency of their pension fund. A tax on medical devices and health insurance plans would also be repealed permanently.

The deficit tab for the package grew as well – almost USD400 billion over 10 years to repeal the three so-called “Obamacare” taxes alone – with a companion package to extend several business-friendly tax breaks still under negotiation. The Obama-era taxes have previously been suspended on a piecemeal basis.

The legislation is laced with provisions reflecting divided power in Washington.