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National Govt & Politics
10 tidbits from inside the massive Omnibus funding bill in Congress
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10 tidbits from inside the massive Omnibus funding bill in Congress

10 tidbits from inside the massive Omnibus funding bill in Congress
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

10 tidbits from inside the massive Omnibus funding bill in Congress

Ending weeks of negotiations between Congress and the White House, GOP leaders on Wednesday night released a $1.3 trillion funding plan for the federal government, an agreement that will result in over $100 billion in new spending in 2018, causing heartburn - and opposition - among more conservative Republicans in the House.

Almost six months behind schedule on their budget work, lawmakers produced a mammoth funding bill, which weighs in at 2,232 pages, the product of extended talks that almost went awry at the last minute.

The bill was highlighted by the inclusion of a number of non-spending provisions, like two measures championed in the aftermath of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which would get more information into the background check system for gun buyers, and to help schools better recognize possible problems with violence.

Each party had a laundry list of items that they trumpeted in a flurry of news releases sent to reporters - for Republicans, that often included more money for the Pentagon, while Democrats focused on more money for domestic programs.

In all, almost 4,000 pages of bill text and supporting materials were released to lawmakers - almost impossible for anyone to read before the votes, which are expected on Thursday.

But we did some speed reading - and here is some of what we found:

1. The Omnibus features more spending from budget deal. Following through on a bipartisan budget agreement from earlier this year, this funding measure adds more money to the Pentagon - raising the overall military budget to $700 billion this year, and $716 billion in 2019. This year's hike was $61 billion: "This is the biggest year-to-year increase in defense funding in 15 years," GOP leaders said in their argument to Republican lawmakers. More money is also added for domestic programs, but that did not match the defense increase, but it was still one reason why Democrats signed on to the agreement. The total for discretionary funding is $1.3 trillion, more than any single year of the Obama Administration.

2. More conservative Republicans not pleased. Even before the details were out on the Omnibus, it wasn't hard to tell what members of the House Freedom Caucus were going to do on this bill - vote against it - even with the big increase in defense funding. "That is not in anyway close to what the election was about, close to what we campaigned on," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). "We all campaigned on changing the status quo," said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). "I think all of us agree we're spending too much," he added. But that was a minority view within the party, as GOP leaders focused more on the big increase in military funding.

3. President Trump backs it with some reservations. After evidently wavering on the details during the day on Wednesday, the President took to Twitter a few hours later to trumpet some of the details in the agreement, and to knock Democrats for what's not in the Omnibus - as there is no agreement dealing with younger illegal immigrant children, known as the "Dreamers." "Democrats refused to take care of DACA," the President said. "Would have been so easy, but they just didn't care."

4. Trump could have had much more for border wall. While the President professed himself satisfied with $1.6 billion in money for border security, Democrats reminded him that they had offered $25 billion for the wall, in exchange for provisions allowing the "Dreamers" to stay in the U.S., and for many to get on a 12-year pathway to citizenship. But for a variety of reasons, the President did not want to accept that kind of an agreement with Congress, as both parties blamed the other for the lack of a deal. As for that $1.6 billion, the bill limits where it can be used:

Jamie Dupree
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Jamie Dupree
Jamie Dupree
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Jamie Dupree

5. NASA sees a budget boost. With the spending spigot open in this bill, there are very few mentions of cuts in the documents handed out by Republicans, as agencies like NASA instead saw their budgets boosted. NASA - which has drawn strong words of praise from President Trump since he took office - saw its budget go above $20 billion for the first time ever, jumping just over $1 billion. That will be good news to lawmakers in Florida - and many other states - which have a piece of NASA's research and operations.

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Jamie Dupree

6. Omnibus includes funds for a new Hurricane Hunter plane. After a round of devastating hurricane strikes in 2017, this spending plan will direct $121 million to buy a "suitable replacement" for a Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter plane, which will insure that enough planes are ready for a busy storm season. For example, in late September and early October of 2017, one of those planes had three separate mechanical problems - but when it was grounded, there was no backup plane. That's long been a concern for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and he noted the provision last night after the bill was released.

7. A big change for the Internal Revenue Service. After years of seeing budget reductions, the IRS was a budget winner in this Omnibus spending agreement, as the agency's budget will go up almost $200 million to $11.43 billion. There will be $320 million specifically dedicated to implementation of the new tax cut law, which was approved late in 2017, in order to change all the forms, schedules, and internal systems to reflect those changes in tax year 2018. $350 million will be directed to improve IRS customer service, which has been suffering more and more telephone delays in recent years. It was a bit of a switch for the GOP to be bragging about how much money they were spending at the IRS, instead of vowing to find new ways to cut the budget at the tax agency.

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8. Trump wanted to end transportation grants. Congress tripled them. One piece of President Trump's budget plan for 2019, was a proposal to eliminate "TIGER" grants for infrastructure. But instead of getting rid of that $500 million program, Congress increased it by $1 billion, tripling the size of those popular transportation grants. Mr. Trump's first budget also tried to get rid of the TIGER program, but when you look at the budget, you realize quickly that grant programs are popular in both parties, because they funnel money to the folks back home.

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9. The ban on funding for a group that no longer exists. Once again, this year's funding bills from Congress include a provision to make sure no federal dollars go to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform, known as ACORN - even though ACORN has disbanded - that happened eight years ago, in 2010. But Republicans have wanted to make sure that any group which looks anything like ACORN, or might turn out to be a progressive grass roots group which acts like ACORN, doesn't get any federal funding in the future.

10. Death payment for a late lawmaker. Earlier this week came the sad news that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) had died, after the 88 year old veteran lawmaker had fallen at her home. When members die while in office, it is customary for the Congress to approve a full year's salary for that member's spouse or estate. It's officially known on a budget line as "Payment to Widows and Heirs of Deceased Members of Congress." Looking through the fine print - it's actually characterized as "mandatory" spending - and not discretionary.

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The House will vote first on the plan - most likely on Thursday. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon after.

Lawmakers are then expected to leave town for a two week Easter break.

Read More

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. 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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.