SECRETS OF THE FY15 FEDERAL SPENDING BILL

ABSTRACT: Congress recently rushed to pass a 1,700 page, $1.1 trillion spending bill. Such last minute, have-to-pass pieces of legislation are ideal vehicles for enacting laws that wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of the regular legislative process. In my 12/14/14 post, I wrote about 2 such provisions: the repeal of the ban on banks investing in derivatives with taxpayer insured funds and the dramatic increase in the amount an individual can contribute to political party committees. This post highlights some of the other items that were slipped into this budget bill.

The Environmental Protection Agency had its budget cut by $60 million, which will result in its lowest staffing level since 1989. Multiple other provisions affecting the environment and the EPA were included. The Internal Revenue Service had its budget cut by $346 million. This will reduce federal government revenue and increase the deficit because the IRS collects $7 for every $1 it spends on audits. Some of the other provisions are listed below in the Full Post.

To help shed light on the passage of special interest legislation, Open Secrets (www.opensecrets.org) tracks campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. It then reports on connections between them and the votes and actions of elected officials.

In summary, the budget bill and its various provisions were bad for low-income, middle class, and working families; for the environment; for educational outcomes and good nutrition in schools; and for fair tax collection. They were good for Wall Street, other large corporations, and wealthy individuals. If there are issues here that you care about, contact your Members of Congress and the President now to express your views and ask them where they stand.

FULL POST: As you probably know, Congress recently rushed to pass a 1,700 page, $1.1 trillion spending bill that keeps the federal government operating. Such last minute, have-to-pass pieces of legislation are ideal vehicles for enacting laws that wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of the regular legislative process. In my 12/14/14 post, I wrote about 2 such provisions: the repeal of the ban on banks investing in derivatives with taxpayer insured funds and the dramatic increase in the amount an individual can contribute to political party committees. This post highlights some of the other budgetary and non-budgetary details that were slipped into this budget bill. [1] [2] [3]

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget was cut by $60 million, which will result in its lowest staffing level since 1989. Multiple other provisions affecting the environment and the EPA were included:

  • Block the EPA from applying the Clean Water Act to certain farms
  • Require the EPA to allow “mountain top removal” coal mining
  • Prevent the EPA from protecting 2 types of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (a benefit for the oil and mining industries)
  • Bar funding to help developing countries cut carbon emissions

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had its budget cut by $346 million. This will reduce federal government revenue and increase the deficit because the IRS collects $7 for every $1 it spends on audits. Most IRS enforcement targets high income tax cheaters because that’s where the significant losses in tax revenue occur. This might explain why its enforcement capacity is being cut.

Other provisions include:

  • Provided record funding to airlines that serve rural airports, $5.4 billion to fight Ebola, $5 billion to fight Islamic militants, and $3 billion for weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t want.
  • Eliminated funding for President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which works to improve educational outcomes for children of all ages.
  • Repealed some nutrition requirements for school lunches (a Michelle Obama initiative).
  • Cut the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which provides vouchers for nutritious food to low income pregnant women and mothers and their young children. In addition, white potatoes must be included as an approved food. (Guess which industry pushed for this latter provision?)
  • Cut funding for Pell higher education grants to low income students. The money will be diverted to for-profit companies that serve as collection agents on student loans.
  • Allowed corporations to cut pensions for current retirees in certain situations.
  • Repealed rules regulating the hours truck drivers can drive. (A benefit for the trucking industry.)
  • Blocked Washington, D.C.’s marijuana legalization.

To help shed light on the passage of special interest legislation, Open Secrets (www.opensecrets.org) tracks campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. It then reports which elected officials received how much in contributions from special interests and how the office holders voted on or otherwise affected policy making favoring the source of their campaign contributions. Open Secrets also reports on the lobbying expenditures of special interests that benefited from legislation or other policy making. For example, it recently reported on campaign contributions and lobbying by Wall Street corporations and the voting to repeal the ban on federally-insured banking corporations engaging in derivatives trading. The report also covered mining interests and the blocking of endangered species protection that would affect them, as well as the trucking industry and changes in driver safety regulations that benefit it. [4] (I’ll provide some of the detail from this report in my next post.)

In summary, the budget bill and its various provisions were bad for low-income, middle class, and working families; for the environment; for educational outcomes and good nutrition in schools; and for fair tax collection. They were good for Wall Street, other large corporations, and wealthy individuals.

The issues included in the year end budget bill are precursors of the issues, budgetary and others, that will be on the table when Congress reconvenes. If there are issues in the items above that you care about, keep tuned and be ready to act when they come up. Better yet, contact your Members of Congress and the President now to express your views and ask them where they stand. And don’t think that based on party affiliation you know where a politician stands; 57 Democrats in the House voted for this budget bill; only 6 Democrats in the Senate voted to stop it from going to a final vote; and President Obama supported it and signed it.

[1]       Waldman, P., 12/12/14, “Did Democrats get hosed on the Budget Bill?” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/did-democrats-get-hosed-budget-bill)

[2]       Kuttner, R., 12/16/14, “The great budget sellout of 2014: Do we even have a second party?” The American Prospect (http://prospect.org/article/great-budget-sellout-2014-do-we-even-have-second-party)

[3]       Taylor, A., 12/16/14, “Defense, tourism among winners in spending bill,” Associated Press (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/418395cf20be4a409cfd85bb93020077/defense-tourism-among-winners-spending-bill)

[4]       Choma, R., 12/12/14, “Wall Street’s omnibus triumph, and others,” Open Secrets (http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/12/wall-streets-omnibus-triumph-and-others/)

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