(UPDATED Friday, 6:45 p.m.) Looking to avoid a third government shutdown in three weeks, Congress sent President Donald Trump a $1.3 trillion spending bill early Friday morning that will keep federal doors open through September.
After party leaders in the House and Senate reached a deal on the budget, the 2,232-page omnibus bill was delivered to lawmakers Wednesday evening — leaving no time for members to actually read it. Still, the House approved it Thursday afternoon by a vote of 256-167. The Senate then began debate with hopes of completing work before midnight Friday when current funding expires. The Senate eventually approved the budget at 12:39 a.m Friday on a 65-32 vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill would deliver the “largest year-on-year increase in defense spending in 15 years” and also addresses the opioid epidemic — scaling up research, treatment, and prevention funding.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that after “painstaking weeks of negotiation” leaders have reached a compromise that all can live with.
“The middle class in this country has suffered from a needless and self-imposed austerity, limiting investment of all of the things that create good-paying jobs and improve the working conditions of Americans,” Schumer said. “This spending agreement brings that era of austerity to an unceremonious end.”
However, President Trump threatened Friday morning to veto the spending bill, risking the possibility of a government shutdown. According to Politico, Trump cited the spending bill’s failure to include full funding for his border wall or attention to undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers.
Trump’s statements came as members of Congress were already on their way back to their districts for a two-week recess, making it difficult for them to even contemplate a veto override. But later Friday Trump said he would go ahead and sign the bill.
The bill also marks the last major piece of must-do legislation facing Congress before the 2018 midterm elections in November. Aside from failing to act on protections from deportations for so-called DREAMers, Congress also has yet to tackle legislation on gun safety or health care.
The omnibus, itself, had enough in it to win over Connecticut’s delegation.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said the omnibus makes important investments in health, education, and job programs. There is a $3 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health research including a 50 percent increase in funds to develop a universal flu vaccine. There is also $3 billion for opioids including additional spending for prescription monitoring, treatment and prevention of opioid addiction, and training for health workers. And, there is $2.4 billion for child care and $610 million for Head Start.
“We achieved an important victory for workers. The deal prohibits employers from pocketing workers’ tips, including taking tips to pay managers and supervisors. And workers will have the right to sue to get back their stolen tips regardless of whether they were paid the full minimum wage or not,” DeLauro said.
Representative Joe Courtney said it provides for important military priorities that will also benefit Connecticut — including submarines, helicopters, and jets.
“As ranking member of the Seapower subcommittee, I am pleased that this measure reflects many of the priorities I have worked on including robust investment in our undersea forces. I am proud to have fought for key investments in programs important to Connecticut that will contribute to our state’s growing manufacturing resurgence,” he said.
Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Elizabeth Esty said they were pleased to see the omnibus includes some incremental movement to address gun violence.
It includes the so-called Fix NICS bill, which Murphy sponsored, that would improve the federal background check registry and provide grants to state law enforcement to encourage them to contribute more information to the registry. It also states that the Centers for Disease Control has the authority to conduct research on the cause of gun violence. And, it contains part of the STOP School Violence Act that Esty has sought to invest in early intervention and prevention programs in schools.
Esty also touted funds for brownfields clean up while Murphy noted that the omnibus includes his “Honor Our Commitment Act” that will provide mental and behavioral health care to hundreds of thousands of at-risk combat veterans and sexual assault victims who received Other-than-Honorable (OTH) or Bad Conduct discharges, sometimes referred to as ‘Bad Paper’ discharges.
“When I heard of soldiers who had been given bad paper discharges after they were diagnosed with PTSD or TBI, I knew I had to do something to make sure our government lived up to its obligations to our vets,” Murphy said.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 62 percent of the veterans separated for misconduct from 2011 through 2015 were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), or another condition at least two years before their discharge. Of those with a diagnosis, about 23 percent received OTH discharges, making them largely ineligible for long-term care.
Not everyone was pleased with the omnibus. Representative Mark Meadows, who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus, said it was “troubling” that the House had voted on a bill that spends $1.3 trillion that no one has read.
“There’s not a single member of Congress that read that bill before they voted on it. I made it to page 700, I can’t imagine anyone made it to 2,200,” Meadows said.
Larson Concerned By Aluminum Tariff
Representative John Larson this week voiced concerns over President Donald Trump’s plan to impose a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum saying it may hurt aerospace subcontractors in Connecticut.
During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Larson questioned U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer about potential exemptions that are being considered to the tariff and when those decisions will be made.
Larson noted that Jarvis Airfoil Inc., a Portland manufacturer, relies on imported aluminum for the fan, compressor, and turbine blades it makes for jet engines.
“Manufacturers downstream are impacted and have grave concerns about the impending tariffs,” he said on Wednesday.
With the new tariffs set to be imposed Friday, Larson wanted to know when decisions will be made for exemptions. Lighthizer did not provide a clear answer other than to say that the tariff would not be imposed on Canada or Mexico as they seek an exemption. Other nations seeking an exemption, however, could see the tariff imposed Friday until a final decision is made sometime in April.
Jarvis Airfoil gets its aluminum from Great Britain.
Lighthizer offered a clearer picture on Thursday during an appearance before the Senate Finance Committee where he said the European Union, along with Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea, would also be exempt.
“The idea that the president has is that, based on a certain set of criteria, some countries should be out,” he said. “What he has decided to do is pause the implementation of the tariffs in respect to those countries.”
The countries listed, together with Canada and Mexico, account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the United States in 2017, according to the New York Times.
Congress Wants Answers From Zuckerberg
Federal lawmakers are lining up to get answers from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after learning that as many as 50 million Facebook users had personal data harvested without their knowledge by a private corporation.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden and Ranking Democrat Frank Pallone issued a joint statement this week asking Zuckerberg to appear before their panel.
Meanwhile, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran want answers from Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, who developed a Facebook application that reportedly gathered the information from users that was later shared with the political analytics company, Cambridge Analytica.
Moran and Blumenthal said that there have been conflicting accounts from involved parties that aim to assign accountability based on the level of understanding regarding the application that was allegedly used for this deceptive data collection. Their subcommittee is responsible for oversight on consumer protection and data privacy issues affecting American consumers, and clarity on the relevant details is critical.
Zuckerberg did not make an immediate public statement when concerns about the data mining were first reported but this week was interviewed by several news media outlets in which he offered somewhat of an apology.
“This was a major breach of trust and I’m really sorry that this happened. Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said during a television interview.
In an interview with Recode, Zuckerberg said he is open to testifying before Congress about the privacy scandal.
“I’m open to doing that,” he said when asked if he’d testify. “We actually do this fairly regularly … There are lots of different topics that Congress needs and wants to know about, and the way that we approach it is that our responsibility is to make sure that they have access to all of the information that they need to have.”
“So I’m open to doing it if I’m the right [person],” he added.
Representative Jim Himes said during an interview on CNN that Zuckerberg’s testimony would serve two purposes.
“Obviously Mark Zuckerberg and others are going to spend some time in front of the Congress. And I think that is going to serve two purposes,” Himes said. “Facebook is going to continue its evolution along with so many of these social media and technology companies to understanding that they actually have a real measure of social responsibility.”
Secondly, Himes said Zuckerberg’s testimony would also drive home to users of social media platforms that the information they provide is likely to be made public.
“It is going to be out there so be a little careful about what you type into this incredible machine we call the Internet,” he said.