Spending deal may not guide Congress
Washington — Optimists might think twice before seeing Congress’ bipartisan agreement to keep the government running another year as a road map for 2015.
Republicans will feel new pressures to show they can produce, even as 2016 presidential politics, and President Barack Obama’s incentives to veto legislation, add uncertainties to the mix.
The $1.1 trillion spending bill will finance most of the government through September, making a repeat of the 2013 shutdown unlikely.
The bill angered conservatives who wanted to block Obama’s executive changes to immigration policy. And it displeased liberals who say it unwisely loosens restrictions on risky Wall Street practices.
But Obama and most congressional leaders called it an acceptable compromise. The only top congressional leader to oppose it was House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Some things the bill would affect:
Extends a freeze on state and local Internet access taxes to Oct. 1, 2015.
Eases rules requiring more whole grains in school lunches and suspends the lower sodium standards due to take effect in 2017, while keeping other healthy-eating rules. Some school nutrition directors — and some students complaining of yucky lunches — lobbied for a break from the standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama.
Rolls back safety rules that were supposed to keep sleepy truckers from causing wrecks. The government’s rules had effectively shortened truckers’ maximum workweek from 82 hours to 70. The trucking industry fought back.
Loosens rules imposed after the 2008 financial crisis. The change relaxes regulation of high-risk investments known as derivatives; those rules were imposed to reduce risk to depositors’ federally insured money and prevent more taxpayer bailouts. Banks said the crackdown stifled the competitiveness of the U.S. financial industry.
Offers a mixed bag for pot smokers. The bill blocks the Justice Department from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states that permit them. But it also blocks federal and local spending to legalize marijuana in Washington, D.C., where voters approved recreational use in a November referendum. It’s unclear what the practical effect of the spending ban will be.
Allows some pension plans to cut benefits promised to current and future retirees. The change is designed to save some financially strapped plans from going broke. It applies to multiemployer plans, which cover more than 10 million people mostly at small, unionized employers, often in the construction business.
Allows more money to flow into political parties. Under the new rules, each superrich donor could give almost $1.6 million per election cycle to political parties and their campaign committees. The comparable limit for 2014’s elections was $194,400.
The sage grouse
Says “no” to putting the greater sage grouse and three related birds on the endangered species list. Environmentalists say time to save them is running out as their sagebrush habitat disappears. But oil and gas companies and other businesses argued that protecting the chicken-sized birds on Western lands would hurt business and local economies.
Attempts to switch off federal rules that are making it harder to find old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. The bill extends a ban on the government spending money to enforce the ongoing phase-out of incandescent bulbs. It may not have much effect, since manufacturers and stores are already well-along in the switch to spiral bulbs and other energy-saving alternatives.
Hunting and fishing
Prohibits the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition or fishing tackle. Lead in fishing sinkers and bullet fragments are being blamed for poisoning birds, such as loons and the endangered California condor. Republicans said EPA regulation would be overreach and just the threat of it was making it hard to find bullets in stores.
Continues a ban on spending money on portraits of Cabinet secretaries, Congress members and other big shots, a Washington tradition that some lawmakers felt had gotten out of hand.
The Capitol dome
Topping it all off, spends $21 million to continue restoration of the leaky, cracked U.S. Capitol dome.
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