Oil, Cider, Slavery, Sledding: 10 Surprising Things in the Omnibus Bill

Dec 17, 2015

The House and Senate are expected to vote Friday to pass an omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through September 2016, ending the threat of another government shutdown this year. The main purpose of the massive piece of legislation is to provide about $1.1 trillion is government funding. But lawmakers have also slipped in several policy changes that actually have little to do with funding the existing government.

From cyber security to sledding, here are 10 of the most surprising provisions in the omnibus:

1. Cyber Security

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a bill that passed the Senate in October which appears in the omnibus in updated form, gives companies legal cover to share cybersecurity information—including customers' personal data—with federal agencies, like the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While CISA's defenders say that the law will facilitate the government's reaction to hacks and breaches, privacy advocates say it essentially enables intelligence and law enforcement surveillance to collect private information without a warrant.

2. Energy

A provision in the package would repeal a 40-year ban on exporting U.S. oil and extend subsidies for solar and wind power. Republicans in Congress argue that selling oil overseas will create jobs and revenue in the U.S. energy sector, TIME's Justin Worland reports, but environmentalists worry that incentivizing more drilling will hurt the recent Paris climate deal's goal of slowing global temperature rise. President Obama opposes lifting the ban, but lawmakers doubt he'll hold up the entire funding deal over this.

3. Campaign Finance

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had hoped to squeeze in approval for political parties to spend unlimited money in coordination with candidates, the Hill reports. Still, Republicans were able to include two riders that enforce undisclosed political spending—one protects "dark money" groups from the IRS and allows them to continue running political ads without disclosing donors, and the other blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from compelling corporations to reveal their campaign finance activities.

4. Food and Agriculture

Their are multiple provisions in the spending bill that deal with regulations on food and agriculture. One, as NPR reports, gives grocery stores and restaurants more time to implement the mandated calorie information on their menus. Another increases flexibility in how schools meet nutrition standards in lunches. And there's a provision that may slow the arrival of the genetically modified salmon that recently won approval from the FDA, by blocking sale of the fish until guidelines are finalized on how to label genetically modified foods.

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5. Health Care

Three major taxes in the Affordable Care Act are delayed under this spending plan. The package includes a one-year break in the health insurance tax and two-year pauses on the Cadillac tax, which targets costly benefits for many union workers, and the medical device tax. According to Politico, these three measures will take about $35 billion in funding away from the Affordable Care Act.

6. 9/11 First Responders

Congress initially appropriated funds in 2010 to provide health care for first responders who became sick after their work in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Under this spending bill those responders will receive lifetime medical care for the illnesses that arose from that time. The health care portion of the Zadroga Act, as its called, is now extended through 2090.

7. Global Slavery

The package includes $25 million dollars for The End Modern Slavery Initiative, which aims to end sexual and labor slavery worldwide by funding programs, with private partners, to increase enforcement against slaveholders, free and assist in the recovery for victims of modern slavery and prevent new enslavement. The initiative was passed unanimously by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February.

8. Alcohol

The extenders bill gives temporary tax breaks to help the rum industry in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as to some small breweries and distilleries, Politico reports. And for all the hipster craft cider lovers out there, Sen. Chuck Schumer's CIDER Act creates a new definition of cider: wine made from apples, pears, apple juice concentrate or pear juice concentrate can be called cider if the alcohol contend does not exceed 8.5%.

9. Russian Rockets

A single paragraph in the bill will allow the United States to use Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites. According to USA Today, Congress passed a previous law to eliminate use of the Russian-made RD-180 to punish Russia for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. But Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who pushed this provision into the omnibus, says that restriction is "reckless" and "undermines our national security." The United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has a factory in North Alabama that makes use of the Russian engines.

10. Winter Fun

After daring children openly defied the ban on sledding on Capitol Hill last winter, lawmakers have included a provision in the omnibus that urges the Capitol Police Board to cede to the children's wishes and allow sledding down the hill. As Roll Call reports, the language in the rider is to "urge," not mandate, so there is no final decision on this important issue yet, but it does show the sledders at least brought Congress to their side.

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