Today on the Hill: Congress Reaches Agreement on Omnibus/Tax Extenders Package

December 16, 2015

Congressional leaders last night unveiled a broad package of spending and tax legislation that would avert a U.S. government shutdown, delay Obamacare’s medical device tax and Cadillac tax for two years, and lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports, among other policy provisions. In a pair of measures around midnight last night, Congress released the texts of the $1.1 trillion omnibus measure (omnibus text; section-by-section summary) as well as a separate package to revive and, in some cases, make permanent a series of tax breaks (tax package; section-by-section summary). The $1.1 trillion spending measure would fund the government through September 30, 2016, and may well be the last substantive federal spending legislation before next November’s elections. Government funding expires at the end of the day today, and Congress is expected to pass a stopgap spending bill that funds the government until December 22 to give Congress time to consider the full-year measure. 

House leaders have said they want a floor vote on Thursday – however, to give the rank and file three days to review the text, that schedule may have to slip until Friday because the legislation was posted well after midnight. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said a vote in the upper chamber could take place the same day as the House vote – something that’s possible only if senators are willing to skip procedural votes in order to get home for the holidays. The omnibus and a companion tax-break measure will get separate House floor votes as amendments to H.R. 2029, as the House plans to send the tax-omnibus package to the Senate as a single piece of legislation.

Among the key provisions and policy riders included in the tax and spending package:

  • Obamacare Taxes – Two levies enacted to help pay for Obamacare subsidies would be delayed for two years: the taxes on medical devices and on high-cost health plans, known as the Cadillac tax.
  • Tax Extenders – Some tax breaks that have been subject to periodic renewal would be made permanent, including the ones for the research and development, small business accelerated depreciation, the Earned Income Tax Credit, an expansion of the child tax credit, tax breaks for charitable giving, and schoolteachers’ expenses.
  • Energy – The spending bill would lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. It also would extend tax credits for renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar power.
  • NIH Funding – The measure includes a large increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the $32.1 billion is $2 billion more than the 2015 enacted level and $900 million more than proposed in the House bill
  • Entry Visas – Like the House-passed bill H.R. 158, the draft omnibus would deny visa waivers to people who’ve traveled to Iraq, Syria or other countries deemed to have significant terrorist activity. The bill doesn’t include language sought by some Republicans that would prevent Syrian refugees from being resettled in the U.S.
  • Pork and Beef – The measure would repeal a requirement that pork and beef labels include the country of origin — a change needed to avert $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs.
  • 9/11 Responders – Health benefits would be renewed for firefighters, police officers and other rescuers who became sick because of toxic exposure at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attack.
  • Cybersecurity – The government would be directed to develop procedures to promote the sharing of cyberattack information. The language is a negotiate compromise between H.R. 1560 and S. 754.
  • Intelligence – Since Congress hasn’t cleared an intelligence authorization bill, one has been rolled into the omnibus. That portion of the measure includes an instruction for the administration to assess whether the Russian government uses assassination as a political tool.
  • IMF – A five-year impasse would be broken by a provision allowing emerging economies to have more of a voice at the International Monetary Fund.
  • Puerto Rico – Health-care payments would be increased to cash-strapped Puerto Rico.
  • IRS – The Internal Revenue Service would get $209 million more than Congress provided in fiscal 2015 – a noteworthy change since the House had proposed a $1.1 billion spending cut in H.R. 2995. That portion of the bill also would halt IRS regulations on organizations that qualify for 501(c)4 tax status.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said last week that Republicans would need Democratic votes to help pass the plan, as they have in previous spending bills. Republican leaders defied Pelosi by putting the crude oil export language in the spending bill instead of the tax-extender bill, which could cut into Democratic support for the spending bill.  On the other hand, Republicans did concede in their bid to require people to provide a Social Security number to take a child tax credit; Democrats contended such a requirement would disproportionately affect immigrants. Republicans also dropped their demands to bar Syrian refugees from being resettled in the U.S, and their request to postpone an impending Department of Labor rule regarding investment advice.

The Appropriations Committee has provided the following individual summaries of each of the 12 Subcommittee components of the omnibus:

Also on the floor today, the House will take up eight bills under suspension of the rules:

  • Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2820 – The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Authorization Act of 2015 would reauthorize the Health and Human Services Department’s stem cell programs through fiscal 2020. The Senate expanded the bill by, among other things, requiring HHS to consider including certain stem cells in the definition of “human organ.”
  • H.R. 4246 – Under the National Guard and Reservist Debt Relief Extension Act of 2015, National Guard members and military reservists would remain exempt through Dec. 19, 2019, from a means test for a preferred method of filing bankruptcy.
  • S. 1090 – The Emergency Information Improvement Act of 2015 would amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act to specifically allow private nonprofit broadcasting facilities to qualify for disaster assistance.
  • Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2297 – The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 would impose sanctions on foreign financial institutions that facilitate transactions or money laundering on behalf of the terrorist organization Hezbollah.
  • H.R. 3750 – The First Responders Passport Act of 2015 would waive passport fees for first responders going abroad to assist in natural disaster responses.
  • H.R. 2241 – The Global Health Innovation Act of 2015 would require the U.S. Agency for International Development to issue an annual report on the development and use of health innovations within its programs. The report would include a description of plans to achieve agency goals related to HIV/AIDS, preventable deaths and protecting communities from infectious disease.
  • H.R. 4239 – The Tracking Foreign Fighters in Terrorist Safe Havens Act would require the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress every 180 days on foreign fighters who have traveled to or from a terrorist safe haven since 2011. Each report would include the number of U.S. citizens in terrorist safe havens and the number of foreign fighters who have left or whose whereabouts are unknown.
  • H.R. 3878 – The Strengthening Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Coordination in Our Ports Act of 2015 would require the Homeland Security Department to implement a risk assessment model to evaluate current and future cybersecurity threats at U.S. ports.

‘Today in on the Hill’ includes updates provided by the House and Senate majority leaders, as well information derived from publications including Bloomberg Government, The Hill, Politico, Roll Call, and National Journal.