Congress, the House of Representatives and Senate passed the massive $1.1 trillion spending bill and $622 billion tax provisions bill on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015 averting a government shutdown for another year. Congress was first to pass the bills separately, while the Senate passed it as one major bill sending to President Barack Obama’s desk to sign. Obama signed the bill on Friday afternoon. The bill marks a major legislative victory for new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and is the last major bill Congress needed to pass before the Christmas break, ending this year’s session.
After Congress sent the Senate the combined spending and tax bills, they easily passed the legislation. The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 65 to 33, and then adjourned for the session. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the vote on the Senate floor, saying, “We’re proving that you can still get a lot done with a President from a different party. We’re proving you can actually enact significant, long-term reforms, achieve conservative policy goals, and get them signed into law.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) praised his party working with the GOP to pass bipartisan legislation, “This session of the Senate has been a demonstration of what can happen when a minority is not trying to block everything.”
On Friday morning, Congress passed the omnibus spending bill for the 2016 fiscal year with a vote of 316-113. A majority of Republicans, 150 voted in favor of the bill, with 95 voted against it. A majority of Democrats voted for the bill, 166 in all with only 18 voting against it. Speaker Ryan was not necessarily pleased with the bill, saying at the weekly GOP leadership press briefing on Thursday, “We inherited a process, a cake that was pretty much more than half-baked.” On Friday Ryan said with relief, “Congress can now move into 2016 with a fresh start.”
Republicans were not pleased with 2,000 page spending bill, which was negotiated as part of a budget deal in October by then departing Speaker of the House John Boehner. The bill did not include a number of important amendments to Republicans including tighter restrictions for Syrian refuges and blocking funding for Planned Parenthood. Instead, Speaker Ryan ensured the bill lifted the ban on US oils imports to secure votes. The bill also increases defense spending above 2011 Budget Control Act’s set caps, ending the sequester cuts and spending limits.
The Republican House leadership set a goal of 150 Republicans voting for the bill. In the past Boehner was never able to achieve a majority of votes from his own relying on Democrats to pass major spending bills. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-S.C.) who urged a majority of Republicans to vote for the bill in a Thanksgiving letter praised the party for the vote. Scalise told the press, “I think you saw a lot of members recognizing that there’s strength in numbers and that we embolden Speaker Ryan in those negotiations if we back him up with the votes.”
Democrats were reluctant to vote for the bill, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi worked hard to convince them to do so. Pelosi wrote a letter to her party Thursday evening, saying, “Republicans’ desperate thirst for lifting the oil export ban empowered Democrats to win significant concessions throughout the Omnibus, including ridding the bill of scores of deeply destructive poison pill riders.”
Republicans also suspended ObamaCare’s “Cadillac” tax on expensive insurance plans for two years, something Democrats wanted to gain union support in the 2016 election. There is also a moratorium on the medical device tax. One element Democrats wanted, but could not achieve was a bankruptcy provisions to aid financially trouble territory, Puerto Rico. Republicans agreed to take up the issue as a separate bill in the new session.
The House passed the $622 billion tax breaks bill on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 17 with a vote of 318 to 109. A majority of Republicans voted for the bill, and 70 Democrats voted for the measure. Speaker Ryan praised the bill’s passage, saying, “Families and businesses are going to have the long-term certainty they need instead of scrambling year to year to find out what’s next.” The bill, which is not paid for and adds to deficit concerns Pelosi, who said, “It is the unpaid-for part of it that is mortgaging our children’s future. I know it sounds good, but it’s a Trojan horse.”
The tax bill also favors to both Democrats and Republicans. The bill expands Democratic supported breaks from the President Barack Obama’s 2009 fiscal stimulus making permanent “the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition.” Democrats favored wind and solar tax breaks were extended for five years, including the 30-percent solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the credit for solar-powered energy-efficient properties, and the wind protection tax credit. Republican secured business related permanent tax breaks including the “research and development tax credit and the Section 179 small-business expensing deduction.”
Congressional leaders reached a deal for both the spending and tax bills on Tuesday evening, Dec. 15. Speaker Ryan announced the deal at the same time as the fifth Republican debate to the Republican conference at an evening meeting. Early Wednesday morning at 1:30 a.m. the full text of the 2009-page omnibus bill was posted online. The House and Senate then passed a short-term funding bill lasting until Dec. 22 giving Congress enough time to pass the bill and President Obama to sign it.