Congress got out of town for the holidays Friday, after getting done what it had to do: the so-called “omnibus” and “tax-extender” legislation to fund the federal government for the fiscal year.
That ended a months-long saga, and although it ran to the very last minute, the result was surprisingly undramatic. Controversial issues raised during earlier appropriations battles this year, such as Confederate images, Planned Parenthood, and Syrian refugees, were somehow avoided.
The House cleverly packaged the material into two votes: one on the $1.1 trillion spending package, and another on extending and expanding $629 billion worth of tax breaks. Although the most conservative Republicans voted against the spending bill, there were plenty of supportive Democrats to make up for that. And unsurprisingly, Republicans were nearly unanimous in supporting the tax breaks.
Republican Frank Guinta of New Hampshire followed that pattern, voting in favor of the tax extenders but against the appropriations bill. In explaining that No vote, Guinta cited concerns about the federal debt, and the absence of a rider to block acceptance of Syrian refugees.
New England’s other Republican, Bruce Poliquin, however, voted in favor of both bills.
New England Democrats in the House were more supportive of the bills than others. Peter Welch of Vermont was the only one in the region to vote against the omnibus spending package; while Welch, Jim Himes of Connecticut, and Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts were the only ones voting against the tax extenders. Tsongas, like many other Democrats who voted against the tax bill, raised concerns about the failure to offset the costs with additional revenue.
One Massachusetts Democrat missed the votes: Joe Kennedy III, who was staying near his wife, as the two were expecting their first child. His office said he would have voted yes.
In the Senate, where both pieces were consolidated into one vote, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and five other Democrats joined 26 Republicans in voting no, against a strong majority.
Markey’s primary objection was the one big concession Democrats made: ending a long ban on the export of crude oil. In statements, Markey leveled his typical bombast at this measure, calling it “a massive giveaway to Big Oil that would be a disaster for our economy, our national security and our environment.”
Temporary extensions of wind and solar tax credits, hailed by some on the left, Markey dismissed as a potential “deathblow for Massachusetts’s nascent offshore wind industry,” because of its 2019 expiration date.
Markey, a privacy advocate, also took issue with the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which was included to give companies greater ability to share Internet traffic and data with government authorities.
Many other lawmakers voiced their concerns about those and other provisions in the bill. But, most in the area felt that the minority Democrats had made out remarkably well in the final legislation.
In fact, Roll Call reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi instructed Democratic members to “keep on their long faces” during the week, and avoid tipping off Republicans about how happy they were about the deal.
Once the votes were taken, area Democrats were quick to boast of pieces of the massive legislation that they wished to take credit for.
Jim McGovern of Worcester pointed to a tax break for transit riders – increasing the limit to $255 a month, equal to parking subsidies for drivers – which he had earlier proposed in separate legislation.
Several area lawmakers boasted about the inclusion of a delay in the medical device tax – a revenue-raising provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) disliked by companies in that industry. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire argued in a recent statement that the tax “would do real harm to New Hampshire’s manufacturing economy.”
So has Shaheen also cheered an included two-year delay of the “Cadillac plan tax,” another ACA provision meant to add revenues.
Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island got a victory on what was, according to one report, one of the last items included in the compromise. That was the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund, taken from a bill Whitehouse wrote and introduced in September. The program will seek to help coastal communities thrive in the face of threats from sea level rise, severe storms, and ocean acidification.
Opioid abuse funding, reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, extra Head Start funding, and a big boost to medical research funding were among the other items area Democrats are crowing about.
Just as important, in their telling, are the items that aren’t in the legislation: a variety of conservative priorities that were left on the proverbial cutting-room floor.
Nevertheless, the bill left many funding levels well below where Democrats feel they should be, after the tight reigns of recent so-called “sequestration” budgets. And, many establishment Republicans – including new Speaker Paul Ryan – seemed perfectly happy to push off many of the more controversial conservative priorities until after the 2016 election cycle, as this has now done.
Social media picture of the week
New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte was on hand to welcome home 115 Army National Guard soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 179th Field Artillery Regiment, as they arrived in Manchester Sunday. They had been deployed in the Middle East as part of Operation Spartan Shield. Ayotte’s press secretary Lauren Zelt posted this photo on Twitter.
— Lauren Zelt (@LaurenZelt) December 20, 2015