WASHINGTON – Congress passed a $400 billion budget deal Friday that busted through spending caps and suspended the debt limit for a year. It included money for disaster relief, opioid treatment and veterans, as well as a six-week spending package to keep the lights on at government agencies while a year-long spending bill gets drafted.
The whopping 652-page document has plenty of additional provisions tucked in. Here are a few:
Some tax breaks to continue
A number of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2016 will be renewed retroactively for 2017, so people can claim them on this year’s tax returns. Fiscal conservatives didn’t like the extension of the breaks because they said the point of the tax overhaul bill passed late last year was to do away with temporary, targeted tax breaks. The budget deal included them anyway.
“There should now be no need to extend any expiring tax provision. If a provision wasn’t extended in the tax reform bill, Congress has already determined that provision’s long-term fate,” Taxpayers for Common Sense, an advocacy group, said in a statement.
Some of the folks who will see tax benefits include owners of racehorses and motor sport entertainment complexes and certain types of energy production facilities.
A Kentucky college benefits
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., helped draft the budget agreement, and his home-state school will enjoy the benefits. The bill includes a provision to help a small school called Berea College, which does not charge tuition. The provision exempts schools that don’t charge tuition from having their endowments taxed. It was supposed to be in the tax bill that passed last year but was stripped out at the last minute.
Climate change tax credits
The bill includes language extending and expanding a tax credit to reward companies for practicing “carbon capture and storage,” an expensive process supporters say can extract up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions generated from the use of fossil fuels in producing electricity and other industrial processes. The measure had bipartisan support: Republicans like that the process helps industry extract hard-to-reach oil and natural gas deposits, and Democrats like it because of its potential to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
Repeal of health panel
A controversial panel created by the Affordable Care Act to control Medicare costs was eliminated. The Independent Payment Advisory Board had not been operating because Medicare spending hadn't reached levels that would trigger the advisory group to make recommendations to Congress on how to cut costs. But it has been a political target since former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin dubbed it a "death panel," arguing it would lead to rationing of care.
Cut in prescription drug costs for seniors
The bill accelerates changes made in the Affordable Care Act to reduce the amount of out-of-pocket costs a senior has to pay for drug coverage. The "doughnut hole" in Medicare's drug benefit will be eliminated one year earlier than it would have been under the ACA.
Higher Medicare premiums for wealthy
Seniors with incomes of more than $500,000 a year (or $750,000 for a couple) will have to pay a greater share of their Medicare bills. Those highest income earners will owe 85% of program costs, instead of 80% under current law. Most Medicare beneficiaries pay 25%.
Cash for mental health and opioid crisis
Many health initiatives will get a boost, including $6 billion targeted to fight the opioid epidemic and fund mental health initiatives. The legislation extends the government's major health insurance program for lower-income children an additional four years beyond a six-year renewal Congress recently approved. The bill increases funding for community health centers, which serve lower-income patients. It delays Medicaid cuts to hospitals that serve large shares of poor people, adds funds to repair and rebuild veterans’ health clinics and boosts funding for medical research.
Disaster assistance — including for churches
Communities hit by last year’s hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters will benefit from more than $80 billion in disaster relief money. The bill replenishes the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund with $23 billion for immediate response and adds $5 billion in Medicaid spending for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The Army Corps of Engineers gets more than $17 billion, mostly for projects aimed at reducing the risk of damage from storms. New funding will help rebuild homes, restock food banks, restart schools, compensate farmers for lost crops and repair small businesses and military installations. The bill lets churches and other religious organizations receive disaster assistance, which civil liberties groups said violates the Constitution.
Help for cotton and dairy producers
The bill spends more than $1 billion helping cotton and dairy producers who have complained that federal programs aren’t enough when market prices are low and production costs are high. Taxpayers for Common Sense called this a “wasteful and unnecessary bailout” that will set the stage for further increases when lawmakers rewrite all agriculture programs this year.
Rural Internet access
The bill includes $20 billion that lawmakers said will be used for improving roads, water treatments plants, broadband in rural areas and energy infrastructure.
Help for retirees with failing pensions
The bill creates a special committee to recommend steps to help miners and other retirees with failing pension plans without damaging the federally managed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a backstop for private pension plans. The committee is supposed to come up with a fix by the end of the year.