- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The new spending deal reached early Wednesday morning spans more than 2,000 pages, spends $1.149 trillion — and lawmakers will have only a few days to digest it all before they’re asked to vote on the legislation, which lays out Congress’s priorities for the rest of fiscal year 2016.

It works out to nearly $572 million per page, with lawmakers splashing money throughout the government, boosting both popular and unpopular programs alike, thanks to a spending hike agreed to in October’s budget deal.

That means even the IRS, which the GOP had targeted year after year for cuts, will finally see an increase in 2016. Negotiators agreed to a $290 million boost, though the extra money is required to be spent on taxpayer services and fraud detection. It’s still $1.7 billion less than President Obama asked for the tax agency.

The biggest fights came on policy disputes, where the GOP won a few of its priorities, but caved on far more. The bill allows Mr. Obama to follow through on his plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. this fiscal year, but does give him new powers to require some visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries to face extra scrutiny if they’ve been to Iraq or Syria recently. The goal is to try to weed out foreign fighters who may have trained with the Islamic State.

Republicans maintained a ban on federal funding of gun control research, turning back an effort by Democratic leaders to force studies in the wake of this year’s mass killings.

And GOP leaders cut the U.S. contribution to the U.N. Population Fund by $2.5 million, or 7 percent, in a small victory for pro-life advocates, who say the money ends up funding international programs that also advocate for abortions.

In a slap at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the bill also prohibits the State Department from spending money to maintain private email accounts. Mrs. Clinton exclusively used an email server kept at her home in New York during her time in office, thwarting open-records requests and spawning the scandal that’s ensnared her presidential campaign this year.

Leaders of both parties will have to round up the votes to pass the measure this week, and both sides are describing it as a compromise that they can’t afford to pass up.

“This package reflects conservative priorities in both funding and policy — including support for critical areas such as our national defense, halting many harmful regulations, and trimming wasteful spending. But it also represents a compromise that members on both sides of the aisle can and should get behind,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill was released at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, meaning that if GOP leaders stick to their three-day pledge it shouldn’t be voted on in the House until Friday at the earliest.

That would still require reading a page every two minutes, continuously over the next couple of days, in order to get through the bill before the vote.

Also included in the bill are provisions to lift the ban on exporting crude oil. Long sought by Republicans, the measure made it in to the final compromise despite intense opposition from environmentalists.

“Lifting the oil export ban is a windfall for big oil at the expense of working Americans and our planet,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat. “Working families will more pay at the pump and our essential efforts to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy will be deeply damaged. It’s a huge mistake.”

The bill also spends $750 million in Central America, particularly on Mr. Obama’s strategy of trying to boost the economies and governments of the region, hoping it will stem some of the surge of illegal immigrant children who’ve jumped the border in recent years. It’s less than Mr. Obama sought, but does amount to at least somewhat of a congressional imprimatur of his plans.

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

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