Oil Exports, Cybersecurity, Weed: Here’s What Was Shoved Into The Budget Deal

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2013, during a Congressional Budget Conference. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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The last-minute funding bill and tax package that was announced late Tuesday evening means Congress is one step closer to avoiding a government shut down.

But the must-pass nature of the bill also made it the best opportunity for lawmakers to turn some of the items on their end of the year policy wish list into federal law. Here are some of the biggest items make it into the final deal:

Congress Makes It Harder For Parisians to Come to the US on Vacation

Republicans weren’t able to make it harder for Syrian refugees to come into the country through omnibus negotiations, but Republicans and Democrats did agree on legislation to enhance the screenings of tourists seeking to visit the United States. In the wake of the Paris attacks, where several of the alleged terrorists had European passports, lawmakers sought to crack down on the possibility of a terrorist using the visa-waiver program to come to the United States.

The visa waiver program applies to nearly 40 countries and gives Europeans and others a quick and easy way to fly to the country without having to attain a visa. The new requirement would add more scrutiny for individuals who have traveled to Iraq, Syria or other “high risk” countries in recent years and require countries to implement a chip into passports to make it easier for a traveler’s identity to be confirmed.

Banks: Biggest Losers in Omnibus

Banks lost big in the omnibus package. Among things they were lobbying for was a roadblock to the Department of Labor’s upcoming “fiduciary rule,” which will bring more transparency to financial advisers who are operating with a conflict of interest.

They were also hoping for some roll-backs to Dodd-Frank, including proposals to restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to undermine the monitoring abilities of the Financial Stability Oversight Council. No such measures were in this week’s big package, meaning the Wall Street reformers who lost in last year’s Cromnibus are breathing a sigh of relief.

The Ban on Crude Oil Exports is Gone After 40 Years

After nearly four decades, a ban on exporting crude oil is gone. It is perhaps the Republican Party’s biggest wins in the omnibus and something the party has been trying to push forward for years. The ban on exporting crude oil was implemented in the 1970s amid the Arab oil embargo. Oil companies have been arguing that the ban on exports was hurting business and not necessary given the large volume of oil being extracted in the U.S. today.

In exchange for lifting the ban, Democrats got guarantees that renewable tax credits would be renewed for the next five years.

Now, You Really Will Have Mystery Meat In the Grocery Store

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) secured language in the omnibus that repeals country of origin labeling on meats from cows to pigs. The labeling provision became a must-do for Republicans and some Democrats after the World Trade Organization announced that Mexico and Canada could impose $1 billion in tariffs against the U.S. in retaliation for the program. An earlier House version of repeals to COOL also included a roll back for poultry labeling, but it was not included in the final version.

The big difference now is that consumers at grocery stores will no longer see where some of their meat is coming from.

Changes to Obamacare

Republicans have tried to repeal Obamacare at every turn, but Democrats agreed that it was time to make some changes to taxes in the legislation and they shoved them in the massive spending package. The tax extenders bill now includes a provision to delay the implementation of the so-called Cadillac tax for two years. The tax –which had attracted the ire of unions– was a levy to be imposed on higher-end employer sponsored plans, and will now go into effect in 2020, instead of 2018.

Republicans and Democrats also agreed to put a two-year pause on the medical device tax, a 2.3 percent tax which applies to medical equipment like ultrasound machines. Finally, a provision attacking Obamacare’s risk corridors program in last year’s Cromnibus was extended for two more years, through the program’s expiration in 2017. The provision has restricted how the feds can pay back insurers who lose money on the surge of sick people getting insurance after Obamacare and has already caused some additional chaos in the market.

Federal Weed Wars

There were some wins and losses for the marijuana legalization movement in the omnibus negotiations. The spending bill dictates that federal law enforcement still may not spend money to halt states from implementing their own legal marijuana distribution or research projects on hemp. That language was in the previous spending bill, but has been renewed.

According to the chairman of the Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell, the omnibus did not include provisions some advocates were hoping for that would have allowed doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to suggest patients use marijuana. The omnibus also did not include a provision that would have protected banks from federal prosecution if they allow legal marijuana distributors in states to bank with them.

A New Bill on Cybersecurity

After languishing in Congress for years, an expansive cybersecurity bill was finished just in time to be tucked into the omnibus. The controversial legislation as written would encourage private companies to share potential cyber threats with the government. Civil liberties advocates have railed against the provision, which they charge does little to protect the privacy of Americans.

The White House and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the hill, however, have been fighting to push the bill through in order to crack down on hackers.

This story has been corrected to reflect that only only beef and pork will no longer be labeled for country of origin.

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Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for condew condew says:

    Yay free trade, now we get to eat meat from China with any damn additive Chinese farmers care to use while their corrupt officials look the other way. But hey, only food allergies are likely to show up immediately, the slow poisons and cancers won’t be apparent for decades. They’ve been kind of partial to adding melamine to milk and animal feed in the past, now humans can have it, too.

    And oil exports are OK, so back to volatile and high gas prices. “Drill baby drill” never was about the supply of oil products for Americans. Welcome to the third world, where we export our raw natural resources rather than use them to employ Americans.

  2. Seems the only turd in this punch bowl so far is the country of origin labeling.

  3. What do you feel about lifting the oil export ban?

  4. I am indifferent to it. So I am happy to exchange lifting it in order to get five years of tax credits for renewable energy development.

  5. Agree, I think the Democrats got a good deal in return for it, and hopefully this won’t trigger a big spike in domestic gas prices. Maybe it could even offset the industry’s recent losses due to falling prices.

    And although I think it does represent a sort of betrayal of the “drill baby drill” crowd that has been screaming for energy independence, I’m hoping that some of these exports find their way to Europe and undercut Russia’s ability to use their own oil as a strategic weapon to hit energy-dependent Europe for agreeing to place sanctions on Russia over their incursion into Ukraine.

    In the same vein, I have also been hopeful that lifting sanctions on Iran would also have the same effect of undercutting Russia’s role as Europe’s energy provider.

    I’m also thankful that efforts to further undermine campaign contribution limits, and Dodd-Frank, were also unsuccessful.

    Now, we shall see it it gets passed. Might be a lot of Freedumb caucus members pissed off over this.

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