A hyper-busy Congress accomplished this week much of what it wasn’t able to do all year. With the unanimous backing of the Connecticut delegation, it approved a massive $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill and made permanent a research and development tax credit that benefits many Connecticut companies,. The Senate also finally acted on to keep the Perkins college loan program alive for another two years.

Washington logoCT defense programs a big beneficiary of massive spending bill

Congress approved a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill that would boost the number of F-35 built in the 2016 fiscal year to 68, provide states with more Head Start money and tighten U.S. visa requirements for those who traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past 10 years. The omnibus spending bill was a compromise between Republican and Democratic leaders and was approved unanimously by the Connecticut congressional delegation – with some misgivings. But all said the good outweighed the bad, which for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, included the omnibus’s rollback of country of origin labeling for beef and pork. “Jobs, economic growth and national security will be fueled by significant funding for Connecticut manufacturers’ vital submarines, Joint Strike Fighter, and helicopter programs,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Permanent R&D tax credit a long-sought victory for Larson

Congress also approved a tax package that extends the life of about 50 tax breaks, some of them permanently. The bill gave Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, big victories with the approval of some of his long-term priorities, including making permanent the research and development tax credit and ensuring that compensation awards to those wrongfully convicted are not subjected to federal taxes. The wrongful-conviction legislation was inspired by the case of James Tillman, who served 16 years after being convicted in Connecticut of rape and kidnapping charges before a DNA test exonerated him. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, broke with the rest of the delegation over the tax bill, saying its $700 billion price tag over 10 years would strip money from other programs and balloon the deficit.

Senate votes to preserve Perkins college loans for another two years

The Senate approved legislation that would extend the Perkins college loan program for another two years. The House voted in September to extend the nation’s oldest student loan program, but Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the head of the Senate panel with oversight of federal education policy, had problems with the program, which is available at most of Connecticut’s four-year colleges and has helped thousands of students in the state. After Alexander made some changes to the program, the Senate approved its reauthorization for another two years. One change is that new undergraduate applicants would qualify for Perkins loans only if they’ve exhausted all other borrowing options. Another  is that graduate students are no longer eligible. “While I am pleased that the Senate acted … to extend this valuable program, I am disappointed that this reauthorization excludes aid to graduate students — a longstanding program that I will continue to fight for,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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