In this episode, we look at the riders added to the must-sign 2015 budget, including favors for Wall Street, unions, agribusiness, the oil and gas industry, electric utilities, the vending machine industry, telecoms, the trucking industry, the insurance industry, and the politicians themselves.
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Article: CRomnibus Disaster Signals a Sad New Normal in D.C. by David Dayen. The Fiscal Times. December 2014.
Article: Wall Street's Omnibus Triumph, and Others by Russ Choma, OpenSecrets Blog, December 2014.
Agriculture & FDA
- Section 741: Defunds an advisory board made up of scientists that evaluates the effectiveness of food safety inspection processes.
- Section 750: Prohibits funding from being used to inspect livestock slaughterhouses to make sure diseased animals are separated from animals who will be eaten and to make sure the animals are being slaughtered humanely.
- Section 751: States can exempt schools from the requirement to provide whole grains to students in school lunches.
- Section 752: No money can be used to implement a law that would require a sodium reduction in school lunches.
Commerce, Justice, & Science
- Section 202: The Department of Justice can't pay for an abortion unless the mother's life is in danger or unless she was raped. The bill acknowledges that this might be unconstitutional and if so, this provision will be "null and void".
- Section 501: Money can't be used for propaganda that is not authorized by Congress.
Section 509: No money can be used to seek the removal of another country's tobacco marketing restrictions, "except for restrictions which are not applied equally to all tobacco or tobacco products of the same type".
- Article: US floats cutting tobacco from part of Pacific trade pact, Krista Hughes, Reuters, October 21, 2014.
Section 516: "None of the funds made available in this Act shall be used in any whatsoever to support or justify the use of torture by any official or contract employee of the United States Government."
Section 517: Fully automatic weapons may be exported to Canada without an export license if they are to be used by the US Federal Government or the government of Canada.
Section 519: Prohibits new trade agreements from including language that forces countries to police the unauthorized distribution of patented pharmaceuticals, language that prevents generic versions of drugs before the patent has expired, and language that allows patent owners to prevent importation of products even if their product is available in other countries.
Section 528: No money can be used to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammaed or any other detainee from Guantanamo Bay prison to another location in the United States.
Section 530: The government should purchase Energy Star light bulbs to the extent practicable.
Section 533: Prohibits government employees from denying or ignoring a permit to import shotguns.
Section 538: Prevents the Department of Justice from using it's money to prevent States from implementing their medical marijuana laws.
TITLE VI- Travel Promotion Enhancement and Modernization Act
- Passed the House in July 2014 and was discussed on CD081: The July Bills.
- Changes the board of directors of Brand USA – a non-profit organization that advertises U.S. tourism – from being made up of travel industry specialists to one made up of entirely of executives, with five seats reserved for people with ties to multinational corporations. It eliminates the seat for the specialist in intercity passenger rail.
- Extends the authorization for the government to spend $100 million per year on Brand USA through 2020.
- Extends the Travel Promotion Fee – a $10 fee charged to people who get a visa to travel into the United States – until 2020.
Energy & Water
Section 107: Federal funding can't be used to enforce the mitigation regulations known as the "Modified Charleston Method."
The Modified Charleston Method was implemented in May 2011 and is a formula for calculating how much wetlands need to be protected for each acre of private development. This method protects more wetlands than are protected when it is not used, generally requiring 3 acres of wetland conservation for every acre destroyed.
- One of the projects impacted is a Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. Kinder Morgan has given almost $80,000 to the Boehner for Speaker Committee.
Article: Wetlands Mitigation Rules Get Tougher, and St. Tammany Officials Get Worried by Christine Harvey. The Times-Picayune. March 2012.
Amendment added by Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana
- Press Release: Scalise Applauds Delay of the Modified Charleston Method in 2015 Appropriations Bill, December 2014.
- The vast majority of Rep. Steve Scalise's campaign funds come from PACs – 71% – but his #1 listed contributing industry is Oil and Gas; he's taken over $600,000.
Section 109: Prohibits changes to the regulatory definition of "fill material" or "discharge of fill material".
- In 2002, the Bush administration changed the definition of "fill material" which can be dumped into waterways with a permit, to include "waste" from coal mining.
- This was attached by Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho to the 2014 budget. He has taken over $445,000 from electric utilities and $137,000 from mining.
Section 312: The Department of Energy is not allowed to construct centrifuges for enriched uranium in 2015 and needs to do a cost-benefit analysis of options for suppling enriched uranium for war purposes and an "estimate to build a national security train".
- According to the Department of Energy, these standards will save $17.7 billion in energy costs over the next 30 years, as well as avoid 106 million metric tons of co2 emissions.
- This amendment was added by Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, whose #5 contributing industry is Electric Utilities – he's taken almost $200,000 -, although he get 69% of his money from PACs. He has added it to must-sign legislation every year since 2010.
Section 114: The Treasury Department may not redesign the $1 bill.
- Article: One is the Loneliest Dollar Bill by Sarah Mimms. National Journal. January 2015.
- Article: Bush Administration Fights Currency Redesign. Associated Press. December 2006.
- Article: The Blind Welcome a Ruling That May Help Them Count Their Cash by Tina Kelley. New York Times. May 2008.
Section 502: Prevents the Federal Communications Commission from implementing a recommendation from 2004 that would change a government subsidy for telecoms to allow payment for broadband lines per household instead of per line, which would effectively reduce the subsidy for the companies.
- Article: Derivatives Markets Growing Again, With Few New Protections by Mayra Rodriguez Valldares. New York Times. May 2014.
- Article: Three Bankers Bolster Blankfein as Goldman Trading Sinks by Michael Moore. Bloomberg. May 2014.
- This provision was added by Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, who took over $114,000 from Securities and Investment bankers for the last election alone. Over the course of his four year career, he's taken almost $700,000 from bankers… that we know of.
Section 735 Prohibits funding for requirements that would make companies submitting offers for Federal contracts to disclose their political contributions.
Section 809: Prohibits Washington DC from using its money to from legalize or reduce the penalties for a schedule I substance, which includes marijuana, for recreational use.
Land Management & Environment
The Department of the Interior
- USGS: For the United States Geological Survey to surveys and research topography, geology, hydrology, biology, and the mineral and water resources of the United States… approx $1 billion, available until 9/30/2016.
- Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, offshore safety: $125 million minus fees collected, estimated real appropriation of $66 million for enforcing regulations for leases for oil and gas, other minerals, and energy on the Outer Continental Shelf + $65 million – minus fees collected- over half of which needs to go towards expediting drilling permits on the Outer Continental Shelf.
- Collection and disbursement of royalties, fees, and other mineral revenue will get $265 million.
Wildland fire management: $805 million.
- Hazardous fuels management and resilient landscapes activities can be privatized.
- This money can be used by the Secretary of State outside the United States.
- This money can be used to pay off debts incurred for fires in previous years.
- This money can be used as emergency funds to deal with earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, storms, oil spills, and to control cricket outbreaks.
Section 122: Prohibits the Secretary of the Interior from protecting the Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
- Oil backers, conservationists battle over fate of greater sage grouse by Sandra Fish, AlJazeera America, December 2013.
Environmental Protection Agency
Over $2.3 billion for fire suppression.
Section 411: Allows Alaska red and yellow cedar to be exported to foreign countries.
- Press Release: Petition Seeks to Protect Tongass' Ancient Yellow Cedars as Endangered Species by the Center for Biological Diversity, June 2014.
- Article: Forest Service criticized over Tongass management by Maria La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, November 2014.
- Article: Viking Lumber wins Big Thorne contract, again by Katie Mortiz, Juneau Empire, October 2014.
- Article: In Alaska, a Battle to Keep Trees, or an Industry, Standing by Michael Wines, New York Times, September 2014.
- Article: The Forest Service bets on second-growth logging in Alaska by Krista Langlois, High Country News, January 2015.
- Article: Budget bill boosts logging by
Section 419: No money can be used to regulate carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor or methane emitted from livestock production.
Section 420: No money can be used to require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.
- Section 425: No money can be used to regulate the lead content of ammunition or fishing tackle.
Labor, Health, & Education
Health and Human Services
- Section 217: Prohibits funding of gun control promotions.
- Section 220: The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) can privatize research into "security countermeasure" drugs for 10 years.
- Op-Ed: Ebola and the most important agency America has never heard of by former Rep. Mike Rogers, The Hill, October 2014.
Department of Education
- Section 301: No money can be used for transporting children to other school districts to "carry out a plan of racial desegregation of any school or school system."
- Section 303: No money can be used to prevent voluntary prayer in public schools.
Department of Labor
- Section 406: The National Labor Relations Board can't use their money to provide employees with electronic voting for electing representatives for their collective bargaining.
- Section 506: The Departments of Health & Humans Services, Labor, and Education can't use their money to pay for health benefits coverage that includes abortion coverage.
- Section 507: Abortions can be paid for with Federal funds if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest or if the mother's life is in danger. States will be allowed to cover abortion and abortion coverage can be offered separately.
- Section 508: No money can be used for research that harms a human embryo.
- Section 521: No money can be used for programs that distribute sterile needles to drug addicts.
- Section 529: No money can go towards ACORN, "or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors."
- Article: Congress's Undying (and Less Than Effective) ACORN Funding Ban, by David Weigel, Bloomberg, December 2014.
Ebola money is available for use until September 30, 2019.
Over $1.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control to "respond to Ebola domestically and internationally."
- $10 million for hospital worker and emergency first responder training.
- $597 million for global health security
- The money can be used to purchase and insure vehicles in foreign countries.
- Section 601: The CDC can use this money to "acquire, lease, construct, alter, renovate, equip, furnish, or manage facilities outside the United States."
$238 billion in "emergency" funding will go towards the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases" to "respond to Ebola domestically and internationally."
$733 million for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to "respond to Ebola domestically and internationally" to develop and purchase vaccines, "necessary medical supplies, and administrative activities."
- Money can be used for the "renovation and alteration of privately owned facilities at the State and local level"
- Section 102: No money can be used to deliver a printed copy of a bill to a Representative unless that Representative asked for it.
- Section 105: No more than 50 copies total of the US Code can be printed for the entire House of Representatives.
- Section 1301: The Government Printing Office is renamed to the Government Publishing Office.
- Section 101: Construction contracts with guaranteed profits will be allowed in Alaska and/or if the Defense Secretary says there's a reason for one in writing.
- Section 109: Military construction money can't be used to pay property taxes in foreign countries.
- Section 110: The military can't use this money for any new installations without notifying the House and Senate Appropriations Committees first.
- Section 111: Architect or engineer contracts over $500,000 in Japan, NATO countries, or countries bordering the Arabian Gulf must be awarded to US firms or be partnerships with US firms.
- Section 117: Money for military construction can be held & used up to four years after it is appropriated.
- Section 127: $125 million extra is appropriated until September 2018 for projects anywhere excepts in Europe.
- Section 512: No money can be used to prepare any United States facilities to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison.
- Veterans benefits will cost $94 billion and medical expenses will cost $59 billion, which is $153 billion total.
- Section 236 The Veterans Integrated Service Networks are not allowed to change their system for contracting for diabetes monitoring supplies and equipment.
- Press Release: Sysmex America Sign Two Contracts with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PR Newswire, November 2013.
- "Sysmex America now holds Veterans Administration hematology contracts and standardization agreements with 16 of the 21 VISNs."
- "The VA Schedules are indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity type contracts awarded to pre-approved vendors."
- OpenSecrets: Hal Rogers, chairman of the Appropriations Committee is a shareholder of Roche Holdings, which signed a 10 year distribution agreement with Sysmex America in 2012 which allows Roche to distribute Sysmex hemotology products to countries around the world.
- Press Release: Sysmex America Sign Two Contracts with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PR Newswire, November 2013.
State Department & Foreign Operations
- $2.1 billion for Worldwide Security protection for the State Department, which has doubled since 2008.
- Article: Exclusive: Blackwater Wins Piece of $10 Billion Mercenary Deal by Spencer Ackerman, Wired, October 2010.
- Approximately $3.5 billion will go towards the United Nations, including U.N. "peacekeeping missions".
- Over $1 billion plus $2.7 billion in "global health programs" funds will go to USAID.
- $5.6 billion will go towards combatting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
- $2.5 billion will go towards "development assistance", which includes spending on:
- Setting up financial institutions
- "Policy and regulatory programs" that "improve the environment" for financial institutions.
- Energy and storage facilities
- Schools spreading "ideas and practices of the United States, including new education material and curricula
- "To expedite the location, exploration, and development of potential sources of energy in developing countries"
- Over $2.6 billion for the "Economic Support Fund", which includes funding for:
- Promoting "economic or political stability"
- Legal education training
- Academic training for law enforcement (the military is prohibited from participating)
- Prison programs
- "Legal reform" and "revision and modernization of legal codes and procedures"
- Can be used for loan guarantees for Jordan, Ukraine, and Tunisia and this money won't count towards laws limiting assistance to countries.
- This money can be used to create "enterprise funds" for Egypt or Tunisia, which are "public-private partnerships for the purpose of investing US Government funds to support the private sector".
- This money "shall be available for economic programs and may not be used for military or paramilitary purposes."
- $853 million for the War on Drugs
- Includes authorization for the "use of herbicides for aerial eradication".
- Tells the State Department to report on the cost of "establishing an aviation platform in Africa" which would be used for, among other things, counternarcotics.
- $145 million for "Peacekeeping Operations" to "enhance the capacity of foreign civilian security forces" including military forces in charge of policing civilians (gendarmes).
- $106 million for "International Military Education and Training."
$5 billion for the "Foreign Military Financing Program
- The money can be used "to procure defense articles and services to enhance the capacity of foreign security forces"
- Over $3 billion must be grants to Israel
- $1.3 billion can be put in an interest bearing account at the NY Federal Reserve for Egypt, and the money can be used for weapons as long as Egypt meets a list of demands (including giving detainees access to due process of law).
- Article: Congress allows Obama to reopen military aid to Egypt by Julian Pecquet. Al Monitor. December 10, 2014.
- $1 billion will be for Jordan.
- This money can be used in the Western Sahara.
- This money can be used for "counterterrorism and counterinsurgency" in Pakistan.
Section 7004: The State Department can construction "diplomatic facilities" that include office space or "other accommodations" for the US Marine Corps.
Section 7008: Money can't be used to directly assist any government whose elected government is removed by the military. However, we can give that country money again as long as the next government is elected.
Section 7034: Prohibits money being used for "tear gas, small arms, light weapons, ammunition, or other items for crowd control purposes for foreign security forces that use excessive force to repress peaceful expression."
Section 7041: The State Department can use its money to create a new government and "promote economic development" in Syria.
Section 7042: State Department funds are going towards training and equipping Ethiopian military and police.
Section 7042: State Department funds will also towards training militaries in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d"Ivoire, Guinea, and Zimbabwe.
Section 7042: State Department money will go towards managing natural resources and supporting security forces in South Sudan.
Section 7043: State Department money will be used for naval forces, coast guards and nongovernmental organizations "directly engaged in maritime security issues" in Asia.
Section 7043: State Department money will go towards the Philippine army.
Section 7043: State Department money will be given to the military of Vietnam and for health/disability activities in areas sprayed with Agent Orange and/or contaminated with dioxin.
Section 7044: The State Department can construct and renovated US government facilities to accommodate Federal employees or contractors or expand aviation facilities in Afghanistan if it would "protect such facilities or the security, health, and welfare of United States personnel."
- Money for Afghanistan can go towards "programs in Central and South Asia relating to a transition in Afghanistan, including expanding Afghanistan linkages within the region."
Section 7044: Money can go towards military training in Sri Lanka.
Section 7045: State Department funds can be used to "support a unified campaign against narcotics trafficking" in Columbia.
- 10% of the funds will go towards "aerial drug eradication programs".
Section 7045: State Department funds can be given to the Guatemalan army.
Section 7045: State Department funds can be given to the Honduran army and police.
Section 7045: State Department funds can be given to the Mexican army and police.
Section 7083: The United States will contribute over $3.8 billion to the International Development Association, a branch of the World Bank that provides loans and grants to "boost economic growth" in poor countries. It's our 17th contribution.
Over $1.3 billion will be for State Department security.
Over $7.6 billion for the War on Terror.
$1.5 billion for Ebola "assistance for countries affected by, or at risk of being affected by, the Ebola virus disease outbreak."
- $500 million for national transportation infrastructure, including highway, bridge, rail, port, and public transportations projects.
- $9.7 billion: For the Federal Aviation Administration. $8.6 billion is from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund so the taxpayer subsidy for air travel is $1.1 billion.
$40 billion for the highway trust fund.
- Commercial drivers must not work for 34 consecutive hours between weeks and that 34 hours must include two periods from 1am to 5am.
- Commercial drivers must not drive more than 60 hours in 7 consecutive days or 70 hours in 8 consecutive days. Truckers will be able to drive for 82 hours per week.
Article: The Department of Transportation wants truckers to sleep more. Congress said no. by Lydia DePillis. Washington Post. December 2014.
Article: Survey Shows Hours of Service Top Trucking Concern. Trucking Info. October 2014.
OpenSecrets: Senator Susan Collins of Maine inserted the rider on behalf of the trucking industry. She received $21,000 from the trucking industry for the 2014 election. The trucking industry also gave $87,150 to Senator Mitch McConnell, the new Majority Leader in the Senate.
- Section 235 Forbids funding for a program that reduces mortgage rates for first time home buyers who go through home counseling and financial education.
- Section 420 "It is the sense of Congress that the Congress should not pass any legislation that authorizes spending cuts that would increase poverty in the United States."
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security remains at the same levels as 2014. Funding runs out on February 27, 2015.
- Article: With Shutdown Avoided, Who Are Winners (And Losers) In 2015 Budget? by Kelly Phillips, Forbes, December 2014.
Expatriate Health Coverage
This section includes the altered text of HR 4414, the Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014, which was discussed on Congressional Dish episode CD075: The April Bills.
- Exempts expatriate health plans issued or renewed on or after July 1, 2015 from the minimum standards set by the Affordable Care Act.
- "Expatriate" includes people from foreign countries working in the United States as part of a job transfer.
- The effects of this on the PAYGO budget will not be counted.
The original version of this bill was written by Rep. John Carney of Delaware, who has taken over $312,000 from the insurance industry.
In May, as discussed on Congressional Dish episode CD071: Our New Laws, the President signed into law the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which eliminated public financing of political party conventions.
- Section 101: Creates three separate funds for political parties, at least triples the amount of money an individual can contribute to each of these new funds, and eliminates limits on how the parties can spend the money.
We don't know exactly how much individuals will be able to contribute to political parties now that this provision is law. NPR has a different number than the Washington Post, which has a different number than The New York Times. Congressional Dish calculations indicate that the changes will allow an individual to contribute at least $257,400 per year and that amount increases every two years based on the Consumer Price Index.
Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), pensions for retiree's who have already started to collect benefits can't be cut unless a company goes into bankruptcy. This section changes the law to allow benefit cuts to multi-employer pension plans under other scenarios.
- Section 102: Allows a multi-employer pension plan to be labeled in "critical status" five years before it's projected to actually meet critical status criteria, if the plan sponsor chooses to label it that way.
- Section 106: After certifying that a plan is in critical status, a "funding improvement plan" must be crafted, and benefits cannot be cut nor new people excluded during this time.
- Section 121: Allows the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to merge two or more multi-employer pension plans and allows the PBGC to give cash to the plans.
- Section 122: Multi-employer plans can be broken up if they've cut all the benefits allowed and need to do so to remain solvent.
- Section 131: Increases the premium rate for multi-employer plans from $12 to $26 in 2015 and then some complicated amount tied to the national average wage index after that.
- Section 201: Allows benefits to be cut when a plan is in "critical and declining status", which means the plan is in critical status and projected to become insolvent within the next 15 years.
- For plans with over 10,000 participants, one participant – selected by the plan sponsor – will advocate on behalf of all the retired participants.
- The following conditions need to be met in order to suspend benefits:
- The plan needs to certify that it will avoid insolvency.
- The plan needs to certify that it will become insolvent if it doesn't cut benefits.
- Limits on benefit suspensions
- Monthly benefits can't be reduced below 110% of what would be guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is approximately $1,180 for participants in multi-employer plans.
- People over 75 are exempted from the benefit cuts.
- Disability benefits can't be cut.
- Eleven different factors will determine how much each participant's benefits would be cut.
- Benefits will be cut first for employees that worked for companies that withdrew from the plan and failed to pay.
- Benefits can't be cut until the plan sponsor submits can application to the Secretary of the Treasury and notifies plan participants, employers, and employee organizations.
- The notice can be in electronic form.
- Process for cutting benefits:
- The plan sponsor must submit an application to the Secretary of the Treasury for approval to suspend benefits.
- Within 30 days of receiving the application, the Secretary of the Treasury will solicit comments from employers, employee organizations, and participants on the website of the Secretary of the Treasury.
- If the Secretary of the Treasury does not approve or deny the application within 225 days, the application will be deemed approved.
- Within 30 days of the application's approval, participants and beneficiaries must vote on whether or not to cut benefits. Majority rules.
- If the participants vote not to cut benefits, the Secretary of Treasury can label the plan a "systemically important plan" and allow benefits to be cut even though the participants voted no.
- Access to the courts is limited:
OpenSecrets: Rep. John Kline has taken over $14 million in campaign contributions from all kinds of industries.
OpenSecrets: Former Rep. George Miller took over $2.4 million from unions, that we know of.
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