Massive spending plan boosts defense, includes Murphy’s gun bill

Updated at 10:48 p.m.

Washington – Congress late Wednesday reached final agreement on a massive spending bill that will boost spending on both defense and domestic programs and also make a number of policy changes, including some to federal gun laws.

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package that that has been under negotiation by Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, with plenty of input from President Donald Trump, will boost transportation by $10 billion, increasing the amount of money for local “TIGER” transportation grants, federal highways and the Northeast rail system.

It also will increase the Pentagon’s budget by $78 billion over 2017 levels, providing $1.1 billion for 56 Sikorsky-made Black Hawk helicopters – adding eight choppers to the Pentagon’s request for the National Guard — and $10.2 billion for 90 F-35 fighter jets, whose engines are made by Pratt & Whitney.

The omnibus also incorporates the “‘Fix NICS” bill sponsored by Sens. Chris Murphy and John Cornyn that would encourage states and federal agencies to improve their reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a database used by the FBI to screen prospective gun buyers.

Several members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, however, vowed to force a vote on an amendment that would strip the Fix NICS language out of the bill. The U.S. House hopes to vote on the omnibus bill Thursday.

The spending bill also has language that clarifies the Dickey Amendment, a provision first inserted in the 1996 spending bill that mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

The CDC has held back from studying the health impact of gun violence because of their interpretation of the amendment, but the omnibus bill makes it clear they can do those studies.

The bill also incorporates legislation promoted by the GOP to respond to the mass shooting last month at a Parkland, Fla., high school. The measure, the Student, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act, would authorize $50 million in grants to help schools increase security and learn how to better identify potential threats.

Lockheed Martin photo

The F-35A stealth fighter, the Air Force version of the plane.

Negotiators approved $275.5 million in Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants, used by many Connecticut communities to bolster their local police forces, adding that “the Department of Justice is reminded that the COPS Hiring Program may include grant award preference categories for School Resource Officers.”

Democrats were able to beat back dozens of “riders” the GOP wanted to include in the bill, including one that would have punished so-called “sanctuary” cities that fail to hold immigrant prisoners who have completed their sentences so federal immigration agents can pick them up.

But one Democratic priority, providing temporary legal status and a path to citizenship for thousands of immigrant youth, known as “Dreamers,” brought to this country illegally by their parents, is not included in the bill.

The spending package also fails to fund “cost-sharing reduction” payments to health insurers established under the Affordable Care Act to offset the cost of lowering co-payments and deductibles for low-income people.

Proponents argue that without the CSR payments, premiums will spike up to 40 percent for certain groups of people. Trump, who eliminated the payments, and others insist they are a giveaway to insurance companies.

“We are disappointed that Congress was unable to take this opportunity to help reduce premiums for hardworking Americans,” said America’s Health Insurance Plan, a leading health insurer trade group,in a statement.

Democrats won an increase of $2.37 billion, for a total of $5.22 billion for Child Care Development Block Grants, which funds the Care4Kids child care subsidy program in Connecticut, and $3.3 billion to combat the opioid epidemic.

“The omnibus proposal contains bold investments in our veterans, the National Institutes of Health, community health centers, and families fighting opioid addiction,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “These job-creating, life-saving investments stand in sharp contrast to the Trump Budget.”

Pelosi negotiated the massive spending package with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The lawmakers gave Trump much less than the $25 billion down payment he wants to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The omnibus will provide $1.6 billion for the barrier, with most of that money earmarked for technology.

But the congressional negotiators heeded Trump’s call to boost defense spending.

Sikorsky Aircraft

Sikorsky’s CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter in flight testing.

Electric Boat, which is building both the Virginia-class subs and the new Columbia-class boats, will benefit from a slight boost, from 1.9 billion to 2.1 billion in advanced procurement money for “industrial base expansion.”

Congressional negotiators also approved a little more than $3 3 billion to continue the two-a-year pace of construction of the Virginia class subs.

Money for planning and design of the Columbia class subs was also slightly increased, from $842 million the Pentagon had asked for, to $861 million.

Besides the increase in the order of Black Hawks, Sikorsky will benefit from the omnibus’ increase in the money allocated for the CH53K “King Stallion” heavy lift helicopter program, form about $568 million the Defense Department had requested to nearly $803 million.

Congress is in a time crunch to finish work on the bill and move it through the House and Senate.

Unless the omnibus is approved and signed by Trump before midnight on Friday, or Congress agrees to pass a bill that would fund the government for a few more days, the federal government will shut down for the third time in this federal fiscal year.

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