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More Details on Omnibus Spending Bill Passing Congress Today

Now that we know the state of play on the one year-end bill left outstanding, let’s redirect to the one that’s moving through the system currently. The House just passed the omnibus appropriations bill, funding all government agencies through the rest of the fiscal year, until September 30, 2012. It’s on to the Senate, where passage is pretty well assured.

The bill package included a complicated set of votes so conservatives could claim that they cut spending below the level dictated by the debt limit deal, when in actuality those votes will not become law. So the $1.043 trillion level of discretionary spending remains constant in this bill. That’s a net cut from the previous fiscal year, albeit a small one, so make no mistake, this is a slight austerity budget for FY 2012.

Now that it’s on the way to passage, let’s find out what’s in it! That net cut in the budget manifests itself in a variety of ways. Let me pull out a few examples:

$518 billion for the Pentagon’s core budget, a 1 percent boost, excluding military operations overseas.
$7.2 billion to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
$11.8 billion for the IRS, an almost 3 percent budget cut.
$8.4 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a 6 percent cut from the president’s request.
$3.5 billion for low-income heating and utility subsidies, a cut of about 25 percent.

So the IRS and the EPA get whacked. The IRS cuts will only lead to less collection of government revenue; this has been proven in countless studies. So it’s almost a double hit to the budget. The cuts to LIHEAP are truly abominable, and as poor people begin to freeze this winter we will see the consequences there.

Education and health research appear to have been held constant. However, a limit to the number of semesters for higher education Pell grants, as well as a tightening of other eligibility standards, will dump 100,000 students off the program, even while the $5,500 maximum award remains the same.

And then there are the riders. The ridiculous “save the incandescent light bulb” bill made its way into the omnibus; regulations for energy efficient light bulbs will now be delayed for the fiscal year. A long-running restriction on transferring detainees from Guantanamo to the US stays in the bill, and the DC abortion funding ban makes a return appearance as well. In addition, the bill would ban federal funding of needle exchange programs, which just seems completely stupid, and would delay Labor Department regulations on coal dust. So sick people get sicker.

Democrats were able to excise riders blocking EPA regulations on greenhouse gases, industrial boilers and coal ash (they just cut the funding, making enforcement harder). NPR and Planned Parenthood funding were held harmless as well. The Obama Administration was able to claw back more funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which is nice, and they will be able to implement new travel and remittance rules for Cuba.

The estimable David Rogers has a full set of details. This is the mildly austere budget cemented in the debt limit deal. It actually gets much worse in 2013. And the riders are really nauseating.

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David Dayen

David Dayen