-- Before it adjourns for the year, Congress is poised to pass a pair of massive spending bills that would lift a 40-year ban on crude oil exports, require visas for foreigners who traveled to Syria and other countries and authorize funding for 9/11 responders.
Also among the items included in the $1.1 trillion government spending bill and $650 million tax bill under review by lawmakers are a tax break for hard cider makers that would raise the legal limit of alcohol in cider made from apples and pears and permitting sledding on Capitol Hill.
Here are some notable items the bills contain:
9/11 HEALTH BILL: The omnibus reauthorizes $8 billion for 9/11 first responder healthcare and victim compensation -– funding the health program until 2090 and the victim compensation fund for another five years. The deal also requires an audit of the health program every five years and caps funding for the health program for the first 10 years. Advocates are calling it a “big victory” because it includes full funding and avoids cuts to compensation awards.
LIFTS BAN ON CRUDE OIL EXPORTS: On the heels of the Obama administration’s climate push, this omnibus provision is a big win for Republicans. The measure lifts 40-year ban on exporting most U.S. crude oil exports. One expert predicted crude export revenue could bring in upward of $15 billion by 2017. Democrats, in exchange, received a five-year extension of renewable energy tax breaks.
VISA WAIVER PROGRAM: The omnibus includes a House-passed bill that would tighten the security of the visa waiver program that allows individuals from 38 countries to travel to the United States without a visa. The measures would reform the program and require individuals who have traveled to Syria, Iraq and Sudan over the last five years obtain a visa before entering the United States.
OBAMACARE TAX DELAYS: The tax extenders bill postpones for two years a tax on expensive employer-sponsored health plans, nicknamed the “Cadillac tax,” from going into effect. It had already been delayed from going into effect in 2018, so now the earliest it will be implemented is 2020.
The deal also delays the medical device tax, and keeps in place the risk corridor language that limits how much the federal government can spend to protect insurance companies. The language, supported by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is credited with undermining the durability of Obamacare.
SLEDDING ON CAPITOL HILL? Lawmakers have slipped language into the omnibus bill asking Capitol Police to permit sledding on Capitol Hill. Officers have previously turned away Washington families and children from sledding down the capital's most notable hill.
Negotiators dropped many partisan demands in order to reach a deal:
CAMPAIGN CASH: The bill stripped out a provision, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that would have boosted the amount of money political parties could spend on candidates. The omnibus does, however, prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from forcing public companies to disclose political contributions, which is opposed by campaign finance transparency advocates.
REFUGEES: The spending bill does not contain the House-passed bill that would have essentially put a freeze on accepting Syrian refugees into the U.S. It does, however, contain language already passed in the House that would overhaul the visa waiver program.
PUERTO RICO AID: The indebted U.S. territory had pleaded for Congress to include a provision allowing Puerto Rico to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy in the omnibus – but no dice. The White House had previously called on Congress to create a special class of bankruptcy available only to U.S. territories. Members of both parties have taken issue with elements of the bills.
GUN VIOLENCE RESEARCH: Despite an 11th-hour effort from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Democrats were unable to roll back a federal funding ban on gun violence research, a demand after recent shootings in San Bernardino, California, and Colorado Springs.
Democrats – whose votes House Speaker Paul Ryan will likely need to pass the spending bill – have concerns about the oil export ban and the potential effect on union manufacturing and refinery jobs.
Many Republicans are expected to oppose the spending increase, and had also hoped for more policy concessions from Democrats.
“The Syrian refugee issue and Planned parenthood were both issues that were not addressed,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, who called concerns about the vetting of Syrian refugees a “top priority” of his constituents.
Leaders in both parties defended the deal, saying both sides compromised to reach an agreement.
“In divided government, you don't get everything you want,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said Tuesday morning. “This is a bipartisan compromise.”
The House will take up the tax extender bill Thursday, and vote on the spending bill Friday.