- The Washington Times - Monday, December 21, 2020

The movement to defund the police careened into the realities of public policy on Monday and the police won, with Congress announcing legislation that not only keeps federal cash flowing but even increases funding for its own police force on Capitol Hill by more than 10%.

There’s also more money for President Trump’s border wall in the new spending bill, and while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement funding is down slightly, ICE will have 50% more detention beds for illegal immigrants than Democrats had proposed.

“We aren’t defunding the police or abolishing ICE around here. Not on our watch,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

The funding is part of a $1.4 trillion spending bill to keep government agencies operating for the rest of fiscal year 2021. The measure was coupled with the $900 billion coronavirus relief package.

Everything from Pentagon funding to schools to American embassies is funded by the sprawling bill.

Democrats said the bill, while less than they wanted, spends far more than Mr. Trump planned when it comes to domestic programs.

“This bill drives the final stake through the heart of the Trump administration’s effort to substantially diminish the role of government in helping Americans in need and promoting economic growth,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill totaled 5,593 pages, and there were another 1,924 pages of reports accompanying the bill — not including the secret annex for classified programs.

It was released just before 2 p.m. Monday, and House lawmakers were being asked to cast their first votes just after 5 p.m., with the Senate expected to follow late in the night.

In order to digest everything in the bill and reports before their first vote, House members would have had to read more than 35 pages per minute.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, who vowed to oppose the bill, said his colleagues will be backing it on faith, hoping their leaders didn’t mislead them about what’s in it.

“I don’t think anybody will read it and they’ll all vote based on the understanding of what’s in it, but they’re all going to be voting for a $2 trillion dollar deficit next year,” he said. “I think there is a great deal of hypocrisy. All these people lament the Democrats are all socialists and socialism — they’re voting for something equally as bad or worse than what they complain about from the other side.”

The sprawling bill went well beyond divvying up cash to include major policy changes.

One provision rewrites the oppressive 108-question federal student financial aid form filled out by tens of millions of college students and their families each year. Under the new rules, the form cannot be longer than 36 questions.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and chair of the Senate’s education committee, called the 108-question form “the biggest barrier” to low-income students looking to go to college.

The bill also erases some debt held by historically Black colleges and universities, and firms up the ability of prisoners to get Pell Grants to help them with college costs.

Tucked inside the bill is the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, which sets out the intelligence spy community’s policy priorities.

Also included is an order to ratchet down production of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are a major source of coolant for air conditioners — and also a significant source of greenhouse gases.

The government has been operating on stopgap funding at 2020 levels since Oct. 1, which was the start of the fiscal year.

While most of the spending items were easy to work out, several perennial battles delayed getting a final deal done, with immigration policy and action items from this summer’s racial justice protests becoming sticking points.

Demonstrators pressured from New York to Los Angeles to make high-profile cuts to their police forces, and House Democrats had proposed a freeze on their own force, the U.S. Capitol Police.

Instead, Monday’s agreement goes the other way, adding $51 million — or 11% — to the Capitol Police budget.

Democrats said they did manage to include a demand that the Capitol Police “develop a process for routinely sharing information with the public” about its activities, but that fell short of the verbal spanking House Democrats had tried to deliver in their bill earlier this year.

Other federal agencies also saw increases, with more money for the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other law enforcement agencies. There is also $3.4 billion in federal grants to local police, an increase of more than $100 million over 2020.

ICE will get about $8 billion in 2021, marking a slight dip from 2020 and nearly $2 billion less than Mr. Trump had wanted.

Within the agency, though, Democrats said they managed to cut $450 million from ICE’s deportation operations — and $1.5 billion less than Mr. Trump had wanted.

The 34,000 detention beds funded for 2021 is far less than the 60,000 request from the president, but it’s higher than the 22,000 House Democrats had proposed. The bill also includes a major increase for alternatives to detention, such as counseling and GS monitoring.

But the bill gives the administration significant flexibility on both sides. Republicans said ICE can shift money to add more beds if it needs, while Democrats pointed out the 34,000 beds don’t all have to be filled if President-elect Joseph R. Biden chooses not to do so.

ICE is required to report on new cooperation agreements with local police, and to cancel contracts with detention facilities that fail inspections.

The bill includes $1.375 billion in money explicitly earmarked for border wall construction. That should cover an additional 56 miles.

It’s the same amount as Congress approved for 2019 and 2020, though each year Mr. Trump has asked for far more.

When Capitol Hill rebuffed those requests he flexed emergency powers to siphon money out of Pentagon accounts. Those moves are being challenged in the courts, though the Supreme Court has allowed construction to continue while the case winds its way through the legal process.

Including the $1.375 billion for 2021 could lock in at least some construction after Mr. Trump is out of office and Mr. Biden takes over — though he might be able to shift the money to other infrastructure projects rather than the steel slate wall.

Mr. Biden has vowed “not one more foot” of wall would be built on his watch.

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

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