Republicans and Democrats sparred over which party emerged victorious from the $1.3 trillion spending bill fight, but the real winners are thousands of interest groups — including wealthy foreign investors, striped bass fishing enthusiasts and cranberry researchers — to whom the bill doles out some serious assistance.
Medical marijuana advocates maintained key protections for states that allow medicinal use, while researchers cheered a massive new infusion of cash in government-sponsored research and development. Space enthusiasts were ecstatic over the biggest boost for NASA in a decade.
Lawmakers representing farm-heavy states secured a provision to maintain exemptions for certain emissions from animal manure from government reporting requirements.
And animal welfare advocates cheered the bill’s de facto ban on horse-meat processing plants in the U.S.
“We’re pleased that Congress has chosen to stand with the 80 percent of Americans who want America’s horses to be protected, not brutally slaughtered,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.
The 2,232-page bill was packed with items whose true extent may not be known for weeks — until Congress and watchdogs have a chance to actually go through the legislation they passed, but which nobody had a chance to fully read.
President Trump, though touting some wins on defense spending, said he was furious with the rest of the bill-writing process.
“I will never sign another bill like this again,” he vowed at the White House on Friday. “If we take something for the military, they want something for, in many cases, things that are really a wasted sum of money.”
Despite Mr. Trump’s complaints, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen told members of the Rules Committee that lawmakers managed to squeeze every penny out of the deal.
“We’ve worked to make sure not a dollar is wasted,” he said.
Congressional waste-watchers disagreed.
“That may be the most ridiculous comment ever made about any legislation in Congress,” said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
But much of the heavy lifting in the bill isn’t about dollars and cents. It’s the policy provisions that are tucked in, either ordering or banning certain actions from the administration.
The horse provision was an example of that.
The bill prevents the government from spending any money to inspect horse-meat slaughter facilities. Without inspections, the meat can’t be sold for human consumption — effectively squelching the industry.
The new law also preserves the controversial EB-5 investor visa program, dubbed the “golden visa,” which allows wealthy foreigners willing to invest a hefty chunk of change into an American business to get on a path to citizenship.
EB-5 has been plagued by fraud, and in one recent case the government said it was even being used to launder money from a Chinese man who had been selling coal to North Korea in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the Senate and House judiciary committees, had been trying to force reforms on the program, but they said wealthy business interests outflanked them.
“The status quo means rampant fraud and abuse of this program will continue,” they said.
The bill also rejected Mr. Trump’s budget request to terminate various research programs, and provides funding increases for areas including pear genetics, hops research, cranberry and blueberry research, and molecular potato breeding.
It also directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to consider lifting a ban on striped bass fishing in a stretch of water near New York and Rhode Island.
A House-passed bill last year had actually blocked the NOAA and the Coast Guard from enforcing the ban — changes sought by Rep. Lee Zeldin, New York Republican, who says dueling state and federal rules are creating confusion for fishermen in the region.