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National Govt & Politics
Congress blocks money from being spent on everything from phone books to Chinese chicken and topless dancers
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Congress blocks money from being spent on everything from phone books to Chinese chicken and topless dancers

Congress blocks money from being spent on everything from phone books to Chinese chicken and topless dancers
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Congress blocks money from being spent on everything from phone books to Chinese chicken and topless dancers

As Congress moves toward a vote this week on a long overdue budget plan to fund the operations of the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year, the fine print of that bipartisan deal again shows a variety of efforts by the Legislative Branch to rein in the use of taxpayer dollars, blocking everything from a military base closure commission, to spending government money on 'topless or nude entertainers.'

The provisions in the 1,665 page bill are headlined by the phrase, "None of the funds" - as the Congress tells the Executive Branch that taxpayer dollars cannot be spent on specific items or activities.

A search of the "Omnibus" spending deal uncovered over 460 instances where the Congress makes clear how money should not be spent.

Here are some of those restrictions:

+ No Chinese Chicken in school lunches. First approved by Congress in a 2014 spending bill, the ban on Chinese poultry for school lunches is back in this Omnibus spending measure. "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to procure processed poultry products imported into the United States from the People’s Republic of China for use in the school lunch program under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act."

+ Keep Naked Dancing off government charge cards. After an internal Pentagon report several years ago found government charge cards were being used by civilian and military employees at casinos, and for adult entertainment, Congress is making clear that such card use is not approved "for gaming, or for entertainment that includes topless or nude entertainers or participants."

+ Don't close down my military base. The Omnibus bars the use of taxpayer dollars to create any military Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). One thing to chuckle about is that prohibition on spending money appears in the bill just after the 'topless or nude entertainers' provision.

+ Make that mooring chain in the U.S. Once again, the defense portion of this bill includes a provision that directs the Pentagon to only buy ship mooring chains that are Made in America. "None of the funds in this Act may be available for the purchase by the Department of Defense (and its departments and agencies) of welded shipboard anchor and mooring chain 4 inches in diameter and under unless the anchor and mooring chain are manufactured in the United States from components which are substantially manufactured in the United States."

+ Keep the Chinese away from NASA. Congress is continuing a ban on spending any taxpayer dollars to host visitors from China; this began six years ago, and has been kept around after concerns that a Chinese scientist working with NASA was really a spy. "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to effectuate the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA."

+ Don't screw with states that have medical marijuana laws. One provision in the Omnibus specifically tells the Executive Branch not to try to do anything to stop states "from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

+ Leave the Hurricane Hunter planes alone. Stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron often gets a line in these funding bills, telling the Executive Branch not to even think about transferring their duties and planes elsewhere. "None of the funds appropriated or made available in this Act shall be used to reduce or disestablish the operation of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force Reserve."

+ Don't change the $1 bill. A yearly feature when it comes to "None of the funds," is a provision from the Congress that tells the feds to leave the $1 bill alone. None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the $1 Federal Reserve note."

+ A reminder that reading the bill isn't enough. When you research the "none of the funds" spending restraints, it becomes obvious that you need to know a little more on some of these provisions - "none of the funds made available to the Federal Trade Commission may be used to implement subsection (e)(2)(B) of section 43 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12 U.S.C. 1831t)." Google that one and figure it out.

+ No federal steps on a national ID card. Just in case anyone was thinking about doing it, the Omnibus makes clear yet again that the Executive Branch should stay away from the issue. "None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for planning, testing, piloting, or developing a national identification card."

+ No government propaganda or fake news. "None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to disseminate information that is deliberately false or misleading."

+ No money for a group that no longer exists. Even after disbanding in 2010, and filing for liquidation under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy laws, the group "ACORN" is still getting Legislative Shade thrown at it by the Congress.

+ Don't drop off a Congressional telephone book. I am old enough to remember when it was a valuable document - the Congressional phone book. But times have changed, and lawmakers are again including prohibitions on spending money to print and deliver that in the halls of Congress - in the House. "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to deliver a printed copy of the United States House of Representatives Telephone Directory to the office of any Member of the House of Representatives

+ Limits on overtime pay at Amtrak. One provision in the Omnibus says that if you are an employee at Amtrak, you can't make over $35,000 per year in overtime pay. That's a little less than in the Department of Homeland Security, where employees are limited to no more than $45,000 a year in overtime.

+ Some messages to the District of Columbia. Seven provisions in this bill tell the government of Washington, D.C. what it cannot do with federal tax dollars - one of them dealing with putting pressure on the Congress itself. "None of the Federal funds provided in this Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes or implementation of any policy including boycott designed to support or defeat legislation pending before Congress or any State legislature."

 

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • Orlando Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani is co-sponsoring a bill to allow illegal immigrants living in Florida to legally obtain a state driver’s license. “We can talk about the need to reform immigration as a whole, but this is one solution to make sure that our roads are safer,” Eskamani said over the phone on Thursday. Illegal immigrants would still have to take a driving test to get a license, and they’d be able to buy car insurance, which Eskamani said would generate additional revenue for the state.  She also believes the bill will encourage people to report accidents and crimes they see on the road. Eskamani agreed with the assessment that the bill (HB 969) does not attempt to change immigration policy but rather change policy dealing with Florida’s current immigrant situation. “On our roads, you have people who are undocumented who are driving their kids to daycare, who are going to work,” Eskamani said.  “They’re doing their best to live life to its fullest potential.” Under current Florida law, residents must prove U.S. citizenship or show a resident alien green card to get a state driver’s license.  This bill would allow people to use documents such as foreign passports, international birth certificates, or tax ID number to get one.   With the 2019 legislative session well underway in Tallahassee, neither the bill nor its Senate companion has seen a committee vote. The bill has gotten notable attention from Fox News, to which Eskamani mused on her Facebook page, “Wow, my first ever mention in Fox News!  This has to come with some sort of award right?”
  • The Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs last year to several high-profile critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Thursday in a Manhattan federal court. >> Read more trending news Cesar Sayoc appeared Thursday for a change of plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.  Sayoc pleaded not guilty in November to a slew of charges after he was identified as the man suspected of mailing pipe bombs to targets including CNN, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. >> Cesar Sayoc Jr.: What we know about the man arrested for sending package bombs Sayoc has been held without bail since his late-October arrest outside a South Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van covered with stickers of Trump and showing images of some Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces. Authorities launched an investigation in October after pipe bombs were mailed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and philanthropist George Soros. In the subsequent days, similar devices were mailed to several other prominent Trump critics, including U.S. Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Democratic donor Tom Steyer. >> 2nd mail bomb to Tom Steyer recovered; suspect agrees to remain jailed, face charges in New York Authorities said Sayoc was linked to the packages after investigators found his fingerprints and DNA on some of them. Without a plea deal, Sayoc faced charges carrying a potential penalty of mandatory life in prison. A court filing last Friday didn't indicate which charge or charges the plea would involve. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Federal authorities and Butler Township police are investigating after an explosive device was placed inside a mailbox and detonated, according to police. >> Read more trending news  The explosive device, which police believe was a commercial-grade firework, was detonated and destroyed the mailbox sometime between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, Butler Township Police Chief John Porter said in a media release. Police did not say what road the incident occurred on but described the area as a rural part of the township.  “Since tampering with a mailbox is covered under federal law, federal authorities have been notified and are participating with us in a joint investigation,” Porter said. “Our initial investigation shows there is no indication of any type of hate or bias crime at this time.”  Authorities continue to investigate.
  • The sister of a Minnesota woman accused of killing a stranger to steal her identity in Florida last year is now facing criminal charges of her own after investigators say she grew angry at her intoxicated son and ran him over with her SUV.  Cynthia Lea Grund, 58, of Salem Township, was jailed on suspicion of second-degree assault and reckless driving. Olmstead County Jail records indicate she has since been released.  >> Read more trending news Olmstead County deputies were called Monday evening to Grund’s home, where they found her 37-year-old son, identified by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as Jason Finstad, suffering from significant lower body injuries, a Sheriff’s Office news release said. The man had been run over by a vehicle.  Investigators determined that Grund had run over her son with a 2004 Ford Explorer, the news release said.  According to detectives, Finstad was very intoxicated when he began walking down the rural driveway to go to a friend’s house. His mother and stepfather no longer wanted him staying at their home.  Grund drove down the driveway to pick Finstad up and drive him to the friend’s house, the news release said. Finstad refused to get in the SUV. “Why don’t you just run me over,” he allegedly said before lying in the driveway in front of Grund’s vehicle.  “Grund then backed the vehicle up and intentionally ran over the victim,” the news release said. “Grund admitted to her actions and at one point made a comment to the effect, ‘He didn't believe I would. He has been drinking all day. We gave him a chance.’” Grund was taken into custody at the scene. >> Related story: ‘Losing Streak Lois,’ killer grandma wanted in 2 slayings nabbed near U.S.-Mexico border Finstad underwent surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester to repair damage to his pelvis. He also suffered head injuries in the incident, investigators said.  He was in fair condition as of Tuesday, the Star Tribune reported. According to the newspaper, Grund is the sister of Lois Ann Riess, 57, of Blooming Prairie, who is being held in Florida on a charge of first-degree murder in the April 5 slaying of Pamela Hutchinson, 59, of Bradenton.  Riess was arrested April 19 on Texas’ South Padre Island after a multistate string of crimes that investigators allege began with the shooting death of her husband, David Riess, 54, at their worm farm. Saturday will mark a year since David Riess’ decomposing body was found. Authorities said David Riess had been dead for several days by the time his body was discovered. The Star Tribune reported last month that a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun found in Lois Riess’ Texas motel room matched shell casings found at the scene of her husband’s death. Dodge County investigators have turned their case over to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for review.  Lois Riess, who authorities nicknamed “Losing Streak Lois” for her penchant for gambling, fled south to Florida -- stopping at a casino on the way. Riess’ abandoned Cadillac Escalade, which Minnesota investigators alleged she left the state in after gunning down her husband, was found in a park in Fort Myers, Florida.  Surveillance footage from a restaurant two blocks from Hutchinson’s borrowed timeshare condo showed the victim chatting with Riess at the bar on April 5, the day authorities believe she was shot to death. Hutchinson’s body was found four days later in the bathroom of the condo.  See the footage of Lois Riess chatting with Pamela Hutchinson below, courtesy of the Fort Myers News-Press.  Investigators believe Hutchinson was killed so Riess could assume her identity. They also believe Hutchinson was shot with the same gun that killed David Riess. According to Riess’ Florida indictment, Lois Riess stole credit cards, money, jewelry, sunglasses and other property from Hutchinson after she was killed. Surveillance footage from Hutchinson’s condo complex showed Riess walking into the parking lot, getting into Hutchinson’s Acura TL and driving away.  The indictment also alleged that Riess went to a Fort Myers bank and used Hutchinson’s identification to withdraw $5,000 from the dead woman’s account before leaving town. Riess was next spotted the following day at an Ocala Hilton hotel, where she used Hutchinson’s identification to check into a room, Lee County officials said. She stayed there the nights of April 6 and 7, according to investigators.  Surveillance footage from inside and outside the hotel showed both Riess and the stolen Acura. According to the News-Press, a white straw hat Riess wore in the footage belonged to Hutchinson.  While in Ocala, Riess is accused of withdrawing another $500 from Hutchinson’s bank account.  From there, Riess is accused of making her way west across the southeastern U.S., making several stops in Louisiana -- including at another casino -- before being seen driving the Acura around Corpus Christi, Texas. She attempted to get $200 from Hutchinson’s account at a gas station, but the effort failed, the News-Press reported.  Riess used her own ID to claim a $1,500 jackpot at a Louisiana casino, the newspaper reported.  Riess remained at large until April 19, when she was arrested on South Padre Island in Texas. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose said a man recognized Riess when she walked into a restaurant on the island, located about 25 miles from the Mexican border, and looked at a menu. Riess did not stay to eat at the restaurant, identified as Dirty Al’s Seafood, but the man called police to report the sighting. A South Padre Island police officer and a federal marshal responded to the area and spotted the white Acura that had been stolen from Hutchinson at another nearby restaurant, the Sea Ranch.  Riess was taken into custody as she sat at the bar inside, eating a meal and chatting with fellow patrons. She was subsequently extradited back to Florida to face charges in Hutchinson’s homicide.   Riess was indicted June 6 in the case, according to court records. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in Hutchinson’s slaying. 

Washington Insider

  • Frustrated by opposition on some college campuses to conservative speakers, President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order which threatens to take away federal research grant money from colleges and universities, if those schools don't guarantee First Amendment protections for those who want to speak on campus. 'We're dealing with billions and billions and billions of dollars,' President Trump said in a White House ceremony on Thursday. Flanked by conservative activists who have run afoul of protests at college and university campuses, Mr. Trump made clear that he wants new opportunities for their voices to be heard. 'Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech,' the President added. 'This order is part of the Trump Administration’s administrative and legislative efforts to support a focus on student outcomes and improve transparency, accountability, and affordability in postsecondary education,' the White House said in a statement. The President had raised this matter earlier in the month, during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington, D.C. It was not immediately clear how the Thursday signing would change the current landscape governing money being sent to schools by the feds, as there are already requirements to uphold the First Amendment. In a morning conference call with reporters, a senior administration official refused to give any hints about how the requirement would be enforced differently going forward. 'I won't get into implementation details,' the official said, repeatedly deflecting questions in a Thursday conference call with reporters about how the plan would work.  'But schools are already supposed to be following these rules,' as the official said 'the goal of the order is to promote free speech more broadly across college campuses.' The plan drew immediate fire from the President's critics. 'President Trump’s concept of free speech is speech that he agrees with, which is, in fact, the antithesis of what the First Amendment seeks to protect,' said Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers union.