- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Congressional negotiators released the massive 1,600-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill late Tuesday and begged colleagues to vote for it as lawmakers rush to finish business and flee Washington before Christmas.

The bill works out to nearly $700 million per page in spending, and covers almost all of the government’s basic operations for the rest of the fiscal year, which lasts through September.

Negotiators tried to take care of some of the hot-button issues that have arisen over the last year — punishing the embattled IRS through funding cuts and demands that it explain its payment of bonuses; including $5.4 billion to fund worldwide Ebola-fighting efforts; and earmarking millions of dollars to try to handle the flood of illegal immigrant children and families that came across the border this year.

That money includes $14 million for states that have seen the highest rates of illegal immigrant children placed in their schools, and $130 million to be used as an enticement for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to try to stop the flow of their citizens headed north. The bill also gives the Obama administration 90 days to submit a plan for trying to halt a new surge in the future.

Homeland Security funding is frozen at last year’s levels through Feb. 27, setting a new deadline for Congress to act. Republicans insisted on a short-term provision in order to preserve leverage to come back next year and try to use the spending bill to halt President Obama’s temporary amnesty, which he announced last month.

But the stopgap measure does not include any new money for agents to combat the surge of illegal immigrants, or to boost security at the White House, where a man managed to bypass Secret Service security and gain entry to the mansion earlier this year.

The biggest-ticket item is defense, where the bill includes $5 billion in new money to combat the rise of the Islamic State terrorists.

“This bill will allow us to fulfill our constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who wrote the final deal with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat.

The overall spending number was chiefly governed by last year’s debt deal, so the wrangling was mostly over how to divvy the money up among various agencies, and over which “legislative riders,” or special restrictions, to include.

One of those is an effort to prevent the District of Columbia’s marijuana legalization program from taking effect. But the bill also specifically orders the Justice Department not to interfere with states or the District in their pursuit of medical marijuana laws.

Some conservatives have said they won’t vote for the spending bill because it doesn’t immediately try to block Mr. Obama’s immigration moves, instead pushing that fight off until next year. That means GOP House leaders will likely need Democrats to help them pass the legislation.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t commit to that Tuesday night, saying they would have to review the details, “but I am hopeful.”

Republicans said they froze funding for Obamacare in the bill, and included restrictions to prevent some Obama administration environmental policies from taking effect. Chief among those is stopping the listing of the sage-grouse as an endangered species, and restricting an expansion of the Clean Water Act to include smaller waterways, which opponents say could have let the EPA regulate farm operations.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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