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VOL. 38 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 5, 2014

Liberals and conservatives gripe about $1.1T bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Exposed to the light of day, a year-end, $1.1 trillion spending bill drew vociferous objections from liberals and milder criticism from conservatives on Wednesday while lawmakers readied a brief, stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown both parties vowed to avoid.

Democrats complained bitterly about a Republican-backed provision in the $1.1 trillion measure to ease regulations imposed on big banks in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown. They also opposed a separate section that eases limits on campaign contributions to political parties.

The White House declined to state President Barack Obama's position on the legislation, negotiated in secret over several days by senior lawmakers, including top leaders in both parties and both houses.

"Putting these two things together in the same bill illustrates everything that's wrong with the political process right now," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Republicans countered — correctly — that Democratic negotiators initially signed off on both, and Speaker John Boehner rebuffed a request from the Democratic leader, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, to jettison them.

"If Rep. Pelosi doesn't think her negotiators did a good job, she should discuss it with them," said Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman.

On the other side of the political spectrum, some conservatives grumbled that the measure left the administration's controversial new immigration policy unchallenged, at least until the end of February. That decision "makes no sense at all. We've let the Democrats set their agenda as though we lost the election," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.,

Given the opposition of an unknown number of conservatives, Boehner and the Republican high command likely will need at least some Democratic support for the bill to assure its passage in a vote set for Thursday.

Yet the political crossfire left the massive, 1,603-page bill in limbo, its prospects for passage at least temporarily uncertain — and so, too, chances of a smooth ending for a Congress marked by two-years of intense partisanship. Other legislation awaited approval as lawmakers looked to the year-end exits.

One bill renews expiring tax provisions and a second would bless the administration's plan to equip and train Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State forces in the Middle East. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also sought confirmation for nine more of Obama's appointees to the federal bench and confirmation of a slew of other officials in a final show of political strength before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

Reaction to the spending bill dwarfed other issues of the day.

Republican rank-and-file members of the House, meeting privately, received an 11-page document prepared by the leadership that said the bill "stops wasteful spending, reins in regulatory overreach, avoids shutdown, improves government."

One conservative, Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, said he was pleased. "I think we won on policy (and) the budget numbers are lower than I ever thought it would be," he said of the measure, which cited the very provision relating to banks that inflamed Democrats.

It would roll back regulations that prohibit financial institutions from using federal deposit insurance to back investments on some complex financial instruments. Supporters said that would help farmers and other borrowers secure loans, and opponents derided as a bailout.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., urged by some liberals to run for president in 2016, said the measure marked government "for the rich and powerful," and would bestow a favor on the same financial institutions "that nearly broke the economy in 2008 and destroyed millions of jobs."

A spokesman for Hillary Clinton, odds-on favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination if she runs, did not respond to a request for comment.

An unlikely coalition of the unwilling was building in opposition to the legislation.

The AFL-CIO and the conservative Heritage Foundation both called for its defeat. So, too, Democracy 21, which seeks to reduce the influence of big money in politics.

America's Health Insurance Plans, representing insurance companies, complained that another provision would lead to higher premiums for consumers. The AARP, which claims a multi-million membership of seniors, objected to a bipartisan agreement — a Democratic priority — that will permit reductions in benefits for current retirees at multi-employer pension funds in extreme financial distress.

The campaign finance changes would sharply increase the amount an individual may contribute to various national political party accounts annually. Those limits would rise from $32,400 to $324,000 for donations to finance parties' national conventions, election recounts and headquarters buildings. Individuals also would be permitted to give $226,800 annually to House and Senate campaign committees.

For all the controversy, the legislation marked a return to normalcy in an era of divided government.

Instead of providing interim funding, the comprehensive legislation was really 11 separate bills in one to assure operations through the Sept., 30 end of the budget year, and stocked with policy provisions sought by one party or the other.

The sole exception was the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded through Feb. 27. Republicans intend to try then to force Obama to accept changes to his immigration policy, without opening themselves to charges that they risk shutting down the entire government to get their way.

Under the president's policy, an estimated 4 million immigrants living in the United States illegally would be spared the threat of deportation.

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