DC Can't Legalize Pot and Other Secrets of the 'Cromnibus'

PHOTO: A sample of marijuana is shown inside the dispensary at Collective Awakenings in Portland, Ore., in this Sept 11, 2014 file photo.
Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian/AP Photo

Congressional appropriators reached a deal on a $1.1 trillion spending measure to fund most of the government through September of 2015. But unless you read all 1,603 pages of the spending bill, you might miss some of the surprise items tucked deep inside the bill.

Several of these items will slide through and become law with no debate or hearings because lawmakers have less than 48 hours to approve the spending measure or face a government shutdown. The House is expected to vote on the “cromnibus” Thursday, giving the Senate little time to pass it before Thursday’s midnight deadline.

From exempting some schools from adhering to school lunch standards advocated by first lady Michelle Obama to effectively stopping D.C. from legalizing marijuana, here’s a look at some of the secret gems hidden in the so-called cromnibus, (and here's how it was so named).

Change in campaign finance laws

The biggest surprise in the huge spending measure is a major change to campaign finance laws that effectively declares campaign finance reform dead. The tail-end of the spending bill includes language that will increase the amount individuals may donate to national party committees tenfold. Individual donors can now donate $32,400 to the Democratic or Republican National Committee, but starting next year, individuals may donate $324,000 to these committees, a tenfold increase. The parties will help raise money for political conventions. The change that flew under the radar will likely anger those who think money is playing too large of a role in politics.

No legal pot for Washington, D.C.

Sixty-one percent of Washington, D.C., voters easily approved Initiative 71, a measure that legalized the use of recreational marijuana in the District of Columbia, in November, but the spending deal announced Tuesday quashes the ability to actually carry out that law. Under the Home Rule Charter, Congress has the authority to approve or block any laws passed in Washington, D.C., and it is exerting that ability in this year’s spending bill. The measure prohibits the use of federal or local funds to implement the popular marijuana initiative, which means D.C. voters can’t light up legally just yet.

Michelle Obama’s lunch standards take a hit

First lady Michelle Obama has advocated for healthier school lunches, but the spending measure will allow some schools to be exempted from implementing the standards she’s pushed. Schools must now use 100 percent whole grain products, such as pastas or breads, in their lunches, but if schools are able to show that they have financial difficulty in obtaining 100 percent whole-grain products, they can be exempted from those standards. The spending measure also includes language that delays the implementation of sodium standards. Additional sodium standards are set to take effect by 2017, but the bill will prevent that from occurring until the “latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.”

A Wall Street bonanza

The biggest proposed changes yet to the Dodd-Frank banking overhaul are tucked deep into the spending bill. This issue has nothing to do with keeping the government open, but Wall Street lobbyists pushed lawmakers to include the changes in the bill. Critics say they would water-down the historic Dodd-Frank legislation. Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls it a Wall Street giveaway and is urging her colleagues to block the proposed changes.

Pay freeze for Joe Biden

If Vice President Joe Biden was thinking about using his pay raise to buy a new Corvette, it ain’t happening. The cromnibus once again prohibits a pay raise for the vice president and other political appointees.

No portraits for government officials

Professional portraits of government officials are pretty costly, with the Obama administration spending almost $400,000 on oil portraits during a two-year period, but the new cromnibus measure wants to make sure taxpayers aren’t being billed for that high-dollar amount any further. For the second year in a row, the government funding measure will prohibit the use of federal funds for these portraits.

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