Congress

Lawmakers unveil two mega spending packages

Health taxes to be repealed, tobacco age raised in year-end deal

From left, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., along with Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, not pictured, announced on Thursday that they had reached a deal on a spending agreement before government funding runs out at the end of this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated Dec. 16 at 6:05 p.m.

House appropriators filed two mega spending packages for floor consideration Tuesday after hammering out last-minute details over the weekend.

The legislation is the culmination of months of bargaining and numerous stalemates, even after a budget caps accord was reached in July. It also provides a must-pass vehicle for various policy measures that are the product of other committees.

Three health care-related taxes imposed nearly a decade ago would be eliminated and the minimum age to purchase tobacco products would be raised to 21 under the spending agreement unveiled Monday, which divides $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2020 appropriations into the two bundles of individual bills covering every federal agency.

The fate of a package of tax extenders, backed by members on both sides of the aisle and traditionally renewed without much controversy, was still up in the air as of Monday evening, however. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats have been pushing hard to add expansions of earned income and child tax credits for the working poor, but Senate Republicans have resisted thus far.

[Appropriators reach spending agreement, fend off possible government shutdown]

The final suite of tax provisions, other than the health care-related items, was being readied as an amendment that could be tucked into the legislation as part of the rule for floor debate if a deal is reached in time, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

The eight-bill spending package of mostly domestic programs does include retirement savings legislation that flew through the House on a 417-3 vote earlier this year before getting hung up in the Senate as a stand-alone bill. The package will be added as an amendment to an unrelated legislative vehicle.

A separate four-bill package contains the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services and Homeland Security measures, also to be substituted for an unrelated measure.

The domestic funding measure carries numerous other nonappropriations items that couldn’t pass on their own. It would extend funding for several health care programs, including community health centers, through May 22, 2020, which is intended to create pressure for a Memorial Day deal on comprehensive legislation to reduce prescription drug prices and crack down on surprise out-of-network medical billing. Both of those efforts ran out of steam in the last few weeks as the House and Senate couldn’t agree on details.

Raising the tobacco age, a priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was part of the tentative agreement on surprise billing that collapsed in the session’s final days. McConnell also secured another of his year-end goals, funding to restore the solvency of the major pension fund for retired coal miners as well as preservation of health care benefits that were at risk because of several coal company bankruptcies.

Pelosi won inclusion of a loan for capital improvements at the Presidio, a national park overlooking San Francisco Bay. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other central California Republicans lost their bid to attach funding for the Shasta Dam enlargement project, which state Democrats and environmental groups oppose.

The eight-bill package will also continue a long-standing prohibition on lawmaker pay raises.

Abortion, guns, border wall

Republicans and the White House would get some other health care-related wins, namely preventing the inclusion of additional family planning funds in the State-Foreign Operations bill and elimination of policy riders that would loosen abortion restrictions.

The final bill won’t include a provision added to the Senate State-Foreign Operations measure by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen that would have required the U.S. Agency for International Development to notify lawmakers of instances where contractors receiving family planning, reproductive health or global HIV/AIDS program funds run afoul of an Obama-era regulation prohibiting discrimination against potential aid recipients. It would also require the agency to develop a mechanism for submitting complaints about possible violations of the nondiscrimination rule.

Anti-abortion activists and religious groups lobbied the Trump administration to remove the provision, arguing it could have cut out faith-based aid groups from USAID contracts. Shaheen argued the amendment would have simply required contractors to adhere to current law, which stipulates they can’t deny services to individuals based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, political affiliation or other factors.

Shaheen on Monday called it “shameful” that her amendment was excluded from the final version.

Republicans also touted the removal of gun control-related policy language sought by Democrats, although the latter secured $25 million to research gun violence. While that’s half of what Democrats wanted, it’s the first such funding in more than 20 years, aides said.

The border wall battle, which led to a 35-day government shutdown in late December and early January, was defused in part by an agreement to largely keep the status quo, along with no additional restraints on the president’s “transfer authority” to shift prior funding to the wall-building effort. Republicans also preserved White House flexibility to build barriers in more places than the fiscal 2019 spending measure allowed.

There’s also language that allows the administration flexibility to transfer more money for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds in response to a “surge,” similar to last year’s bill.

‘Silver loading,’ election security, NIH funding

While three pillars of financing for the 2010 health care law would be repealed — the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost insurance plans, an excise tax on medical device manufacturers and a fee imposed on health insurers — the emerging legislation would also block Trump administration efforts to undermine the law in other ways.

Under the deal, the administration would not be able to prevent automatic reenrollment in plans purchased on the exchanges if a consumer does not select a new plan during open enrollment.

The measure would also stop the administration from barring “silver loading,” a practice that allows insurance plans to add costs on to the silver-tiered insurance plans offered on the exchanges that are tied to the tax credits that help people afford their premiums. Insurance companies began doing that after the administration stopped reimbursing insurers for certain payments that lower out-of-pocket health care costs for some low-income people. The administration has repeatedly threatened to block that practice, which keeps costs lower for consumers but drives up government spending.

Democrats also touted a number of appropriations “wins” in the legislation, including:

  • $425 million for election security grants.
  • Funding for the Census Bureau would be set at $7.6 billion, $1.4 billion more than the Trump administration sought and enough to implement the 2020 decennial head count.
  • “Record” funding for the National Institutes of Health, Head Start, Title I education funds for low-income children and Child Care and Development grants; NIH would receive $41.7 billion, a $2.6 billion or nearly 7 percent increase over the prior year.
  • Federal civilian employees would receive a 3.1 percent rate, matching military pay raises and the largest pay bump for civilian workers in a decade.
  • EPA would receive $9 billion, a $208 million or roughly 2 percent boost over the previous year.
  • $1.5 billion for state opioid response grants.

Generic drugs, Medicaid, Export-Import Bank

A bipartisan drug pricing measure that lawmakers have been pushing for years, which would make it easier for generic drug companies to access samples of brand-name drugs, is also included in the deal.

The spending deal would extend, for two years, Medicaid funding for the U.S. territories, with a federal matching rate of 76 percent for Puerto Rico and 83 percent for other territories. The territories currently receive a 55 percent federal match.

It would also extend, for a decade, the 2010 law’s Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which researches the effectiveness of clinical treatments.

Other ride-alongs on the spending legislation include:

  • A seven-year reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which provides low-cost financing for overseas buyers of U.S. products.
  • A seven-year reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program. Extension of the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30, 2020.
  • Two years of additional funding for the Secure Rural Schools program, which serves schools in areas where a large amount of federal land saps the local tax base necessary to fund public education.

Niels Lesniewski and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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