Friday, February 09, 2018

Spending bill has help for opioid crisis, health centers, rural broadband, cotton and dairy farms, carbon-capture projects

President Trump signed a two-year budget package today, ending the second government shutdown of 2018, albeit a short one of about eight hours. Congress passed the measure after a delay forced by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who protested that it was fiscally irresponsible. "When Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party," Paul said during the debate. He called the package "a bipartisan looting of the treasury,'" Lisa Mascaro reports for the Los Angeles Times.

USA Today calls the package a "whopping ... basket of goodies," such as $1 billion for dairy and cotton producers, lower prescription-drug costs for seniors, higher premiums for wealthy Medicare patients, and $6 billion for the opioid epidemic. It includes $20 billion for infrastructure initiatives, some of which will go to broadband build-outs, John Eggerton reports for Broadcasting and Cable. The bill also includes almost $90 billion in disaster relief for areas hurt by last year's hurricanes and wildfires, funds community health centers, and extends the Children's Health Insurance Program for an extra four years, beyond the six years recently approved, but "would cut $1.35 billion in funding . . . meant to improve public health and prevention funding for states and municipalities," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "The bill continues a special tax rate of 23.8 percent for 2017 for gains from timber sales, a break from the top rate of 35 percent that would have otherwise applied."

Also, the StarTrib reports, "The bill extends a tax credit for 20 percent of an employer’s spending on mine rescue team training costs, up to $10,000" and "allows the immediate deduction of a company’s investment in mine safety equipment." Also on the coal front, "The package included a new tax credit for carbon-capture projects with support from across the ideological spectrum in the Senate," Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post. A “diverse group” of senators helped get it through, said Democratic North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, "who has at least three carbon-capture projects in her state." She also "said the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, representing coal-country Kentucky, had been a co-sponsor on the legislation 'absolutely helped'." 

McConnell had at least two other goodies for Kentucky. The bill will exempt private Berea College from a provision of last year's tax-reform bill that would have taxed its endowment, Eliza Collins and Maureen Groppe report for USA Today. He also inserted an exemption for the state's Southeast Community and Technical College, which was in danger of being disqualified for federal student loans because of a high default rate. McConnell could also be credited with the bill's preservation of tax breaks for owners of racehorses (primarily bred in Kentucky) and racetracks like Kentucky Speedway.

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