Massive spending bill averts a shutdown

House lawmakers overcame bitter partisanship and impeachment this week to pass a nearly $1.4 trillion spending package that would fund the entire federal government through September 2020 and avert a government shutdown. The sprawling package—which does not include the roughly two-thirds of total federal spending that goes toward Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and debt service—capped months of furious horse trading between Republicans and Democrats to reach compromises on everything from border wall funding to the creation of a space force, a pet project of President Trump’s. The Senate was expected to pass the bill after The Week went to press, and President Trump had indicated he would likely sign it into law.

The bill raises discretionary federal spending by about $50 billion over last fiscal year and will result in the second consecutive $1 trillion–plus deficit. It contains wins for both parties—including $1.375 billion for President Trump’s border wall with Mexico. That was far short of the $8.6 billion the president requested, although the spending accord preserved his ability to divert funding from other sources. Democrats won $10 million to create a new immigration detention ombudsman to inspect federal detention facilities and address complaints; $25 million in funding for gun violence research, the first such federal allocation in 20 years; $425 million to upgrade the security of state election systems; and a $208 million boost for the Environmental Protection Agency. The deal also raises the national age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21 and includes a 3.1 percent raise for both civilian and military employees.

The spending accord was “cause for celebration” and welcome proof that Republicans and Democrats “are able to find common ground and get things done amid the impeachment drama,” said the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch. Now, if only Washington’s politicians could extend this cooperative spirit to “other efforts that deserve bipartisan support,” although for the moment we rejoice that “the people’s business can go on” amid partisan rancor. Civilian federal workers made out very well, said The Baltimore Sun. In return for giving Trump his coveted “Space Force,” Democrats won 2.1 million federal employees a “well-deserved gift” of 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Service members already have the benefit, but the “much-needed paid time off” is a boon for parents dealing with the birth, adoption, or fostering of a new child.

Creating a Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military is a good idea whose time has finally come, said Jonathan Trugman in the New York Post. Global adversaries such as China and Russia are “investing in space like never before,” and private companies are “already part of the new space race.” The $13 billion budgeted for the force over the next five years will consolidate 15,000 service members (mostly from the Air Force) into a specialized organization with streamlined procedures that will open up a “new field of advanced space engineering talent” and let America “compete and dominate for decades to come.”

Goodies like this don’t come cheap, and they’re just more evidence of the federal government’s “nonstop spending binge,” said Maya MacGuineas in TheHill.com. The spending package is filled with budget busters, including $35 billion in “special interest tax breaks,” at least $25 billion in “new spending gimmicks,” and billions in unnecessary tax repeals. Adding to our “already massive national debt” of more than $23 trillion is “no way to run a government.”

Looking at what didn’t make it into this bill reveals a lot about how hard it will be for the next Democratic president to push health-insurance reform through Congress, said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Just consider: A provision to ban “surprise medical bills,” and to ensure hospitals are up-front about the cost of patient care, was nixed despite support from lawmakers of both parties as well as the White House. At the same time, Congress repealed three health-industry taxes initially introduced to pay for the Affordable Care Act. “This is just one demonstration of the awesome lobbying power wielded by the health-care industry,” and it augers badly for budgets to come.