Environment, Workers, and Financial Protections Among the Hardest Hit in 2015 Spending Bill

UPDATE (12/17/14): The spending bill passed the House on Dec. 11 and the Senate on Dec. 13. President Obama signed the legislation on Dec. 16.

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With just two days remaining to avert another government shutdown, congressional leaders released a much-anticipated $1 trillion funding package on Tuesday night, setting spending levels for the vast majority of federal agencies through Sept. 30, 2015. The legislation delivers big blows to critical public protections and the resources we need to make investments in infrastructure and public protections.

The priorities included in the bill reflect down-to-the-wire negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The package includes funding for 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills and keeps the Department of Homeland Security running at current funding levels through Feb. 27, 2015.

The bill continues the damaging trend of reductions in funding for key public protections and revenue collection, which is necessary to sustain important public investments. It also makes significant changes to the nation’s campaign finance and pension protection laws without hearings or time for focused debate.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are among the agencies hit hardest by budget cuts.

  • The bill would cut EPA's budget for the fifth year in a row, resulting in a 21 percent funding reduction over the last five years. The bill cuts appropriations for EPA by another $60 million in 2015, which will result in the lowest EPA staffing levels since 1989, at a time when the president's climate change initiative is entering a critical stage.

  • The bill reduces the IRS budget by three percent (or $346 million), with more than half of the cuts aimed at enforcement activities. The IRS budget has been cut by 18 percent since 2010 after adjusting for inflation, even while vast new responsibilities, such as ensuring compliance with Affordable Care Act, have been added to the agency's work load. Given that each dollar invested in taxpayer audits results in $10.60 in additional revenue, these cuts mean the nation will collect $2 billion less in taxes, according to Tom Hungerford at the Economic Policy Institute.

Omnibus funding packages like this one have been historically plagued by policy riders, which act as supplemental directives that frequently have little or nothing to do with budgeting. This year’s bill is no different and contains some particularly controversial provisions. The bill's riders would:

  • Amend Dodd-Frank financial regulatory requirements to allow the risky derivatives trading that was largely responsible for the 2008 financial collapse to continue within federally insured banks, rather than shifting them to non-insured entities. The New York Times reports that Citigroup had a significant hand in writing the language in the rider. In exchange for this troubling provision, the bill boosts funding for two key financial regulators, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • Stop the Department of Energy from halting production of wasteful, energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs in favor of more modern, greener alternatives.

  • Shatter individual campaign finance limits by allowing a massive increase in the amount wealthy Americans can give to national political parties and partisan congressional campaign committees. Individual donors are currently limited to $32,400 in campaign contributions to national political parties, $32,400 to House campaign committees, and $32,400 to Senate campaign committees, for a total of $97,200 per person. Under the terms of the rider, these limits would balloon to a total of $777,600 per person each year.

  • Remove a ban on purchasing white potatoes through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program while cutting funding for the program by $93 million.

  • Prevent EPA from limiting the amount of waste released into our waterways from certain farming activities under the Clean Water Act.

  • Change restrictions on multiemployer pension plans to allow administrators to dramatically cut benefits in financially troubled plans – one of the biggest changes to labor law in decades, one that could harm as many as 10 million Americans.

  • Prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from using any funds to determine whether the sage grouse should be added to the endangered species list. Doing so could have restricted fracking in some areas.

  • Reduce regulations on the trucking industry, including truck weight limits, limits on the number of consecutive hours truck drivers can work, and the transportation of hazardous materials.

  • Prohibit agencies from using appropriated funds to issue or enforce any rule that Congress has disapproved through a joint resolution, potentially attempting to circumvent the constitutional requirement that all bills passed by Congress must be signed by the president.

  • Stop the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Bank Corporation (OPIC) from blocking coal-related energy projects.

The Washington Post has provided a useful summary of other key provisions of the funding bill.

The omnibus package was released too late for votes in both chambers of Congress by Thursday, Dec. 11, the date that federal government funding expires. As a result, a short-term continuing resolution will be used to keep the government running until the omnibus is passed.

Katie Weatherford contributed to this post.

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Yet another spending bill that puts the interests of the wealthy and big banks ahead of the working class. Go figure! How do we fire them all and start fresh? We, as a country, need to pay closer attention to how these politicians are screwing us just to pad their bank accounts!
chad Edward hatten