The Best Goodies From the $1.2 Trillion Spending Bill

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan holds a news conference on Capitol Hill on December 10. Ryan recently announced a deal with congressional Democrats on a federal budget for 2016. Gary Cameron/REUTERS

Paul Ryan has made it clear that he doesn't like governing from the brink. Addressing the press Wednesday morning, the new speaker of the House promised that in 2016, lawmakers won't be pulling all nighters to avoid a government shutdown.

Knock on wood. The newly announced omnibus spending bill still needs to be approved by both chambers of Congress. Although Ryan embraces the principle of compromise in divided government, the deal he struck with Democratic leaders might ruffle some feathers, as both sides had to give up some big wants.

Amid the appropriations are a vast web of rules, exceptions and regulations that advance the parties' agendas. That's right: While you were watching Donald Trump and Jeb Bush yelling at each other over...something, the federal government moved closer to various extenders, riders and projects that will affect you, your taxes and even the air you breathe. Politics, it's said, concentrates the benefits and diffuses the costs.

Here are some highlights, winners and losers from the new budget deal.

The Basics

The bill includes $1.2 trillion dollars in funds and is 2,000 pages long, which is why it receives about one tenth the coverage of the Republican debate from journalists. As Ryan noted during his press conference, it's striking that Congress actually operates by assembling gargantuan, do-or-die, Frankenstein's monster fiscal legislation at the last minute each year.


In addition to the budget deal, Ryan announced a tax bill that would add significant long-term cuts for small businesses, labor unions and manufacturers. The plan would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national deficit over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. For Democrats, the tax deal would permanently enshrine Obama-era credits for low-income families and those paying college tuition.

Winner: Big Oil

The biggest news from the current omnibus bill is a provision that would lift a multi-decade ban on oil exports. During the Republican debate Tuesday, all the candidates trumpeted the idea as a way to flex American muscles abroad, suggesting it would make the U.S. more competitive with other major oil-producing countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. It's an enormous blow for Democrats who don't want to extend benefits to the oil industry. Not to mention, it flies in the face of carbon emission cuts the Obama administration negotiated at the Paris climate talks. Democrats did manage to keep out Republican riders that would hamper new EPA regulations announced by the administration earlier this year.

Loser: IRS

Republicans have talked a lot about the Obama administration's IRS, which they say has cracked down on conservative groups. Many conservatives go so far as to say that Obama has "weaponized" the agency. Whenever Republicans see a vast government conspiracy, they go straight to emails. With the new omnibus bill, IRS employees won't be able to use personal email accounts to conduct government business. There's also a provision requiring State Department employees to turn over their private email records to the government after departing office. Take that, Hillary!

Winner: The Cider Industry

Cider is probably the most underrated alcoholic beverage. It comes with the bubbles of beer but the sweetness of a dessert wine. Manufacturers of cider get a $12 million tax break in this new deal, which was backed by senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Susan Collins of Maine.

Loser: The Greater Sage Grouse

Section 117 prohibits the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) from being placed on the Endangered Species list. The Obama administration removed the species from the list earlier this year, and its placement continues to be a priority for conservationists. The grouse is an umbrella species, or a species whose population health is used as a measure for making conservation decisions. Blocking its inclusion could clear the way for development in sagebrush ecosystems throughout the interior U.S.

Winner: 9/11 First Responders

After months of pressure from Jon Stewart, Congress is finally ready to re-up the World Trade Center Health Program, extending health benefits to 9/11 first responders more or less indefinitely.

Loser: The Air

Republicans included a ban on funding for an increased lightbulb efficiency standard. Requiring those fancy, twisting lightbulbs would be a hassle, but replacing just one incandescent bulb per household would be the equivalent of taking millions of cars off the road in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.

Winner: Photography

"No funds shall be provided for the painting of a portrait of any government official, including the president."

Loser: Strippers

Section 8131 expressly prohibits civilian and military employees of the Defense Department from using government credit cards to pay for entertainment related to gambling and "topless or nude entertainers." This will soon become known as the "Hooters loophole."

Winner: The Military

As Ryan noted early Wednesday morning, this budget will in fact increase military spending. That includes tens of billions of dollars in operations funds and hundreds of millions in personnel funds, with hundreds of millions more thrown in for aircraft and missile procurement.

If you believed half of what last night's debaters were saying about military spending, you would think that our troops are using atlatls. In reality, the U.S. spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined.

Draw: Wall Street

There wasn't much love for the banks in the new deal. Congress is making them pay for improvements to the highway system, and pushbacks on regulatory rules advocated by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby didn't make the final cut. But heading into an election year, the banks will surely make their will known via campaign contributions: The omnibus includes a ban on creating new financial rules relating to the disclosure of corporate political contributions.

Draw: The "Mental Health" Argument

Whenever there's a mass shooting (you know, every day), various lawmakers start pretending that they're serious about addressing "mental health," a subfield of the health care industry that is massive in breadth (hundreds of millions of average, working Americans are on psychopharmaceuticals) yet has somehow become a catch-all term to describe the motivations of people who commit acts of mass murder. The new omnibus bill will give the states $73 million to update their criminal and mental health records within the federal background check program. That's not only chump change, it's also a vague way to go about addressing the supposed root of the problem.

By the way, it's still illegal to use federal funds to research gun violence.

Winner: Farting Cows

No funds can be used to "promulgate or implement any regulation requiring the issuance of permits" related to carbon dioxide and methane emissions associated with livestock. Nor can funds be used to require reports on greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. Yet another provision to look the other way on a significant percentage of pollution.

Loser: The Freedom Caucus

The Tea Party–backed wing of the House Republican conference acted like protesters, not elected officials, when they forced John Boehner to resign earlier this year. Now Paul Ryan is the speaker and Republicans still couldn't defund Planned Parenthood, block the Iran nuclear deal, prevent debt increases and generally advance a conservative agenda. Instead, Ryan had to embrace compromise. Replacing Boehner with Ryan brought in a fresh face (well, maybe not ), but the highly conservative wing of the party doesn't have much to show for it.