$1.1 trillion federal spending plan includes more than $1 billion for Missouri projects | St. Louis Public Radio

$1.1 trillion federal spending plan includes more than $1 billion for Missouri projects

Dec 17, 2015

While Senate Republicans had hoped to consider 12 separate appropriations bills to fund the government after winning the majority this year, lawmakers are once again dealing with a massive government funding package. The $1.1 trillion bill is expected to win final congressional approval Friday, but just in case a last-minute snag develops, President Obama has already signed a stop-gap funding measure to keep the government operating until next Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says that while the bill does begin to “reprioritize” federal spending with Republicans now controlling majorities in both chambers, it falls short of using the power-of-the-purse that he and other Republicans would like to see when it comes to challenging the Obama administration in certain areas.

“From a policy perspective, beyond spending, it’s a disappointment for those of us who had hoped to see some real policy prohibitions and policy directions determined by the appropriations process,” Blunt told reporters Wednesday.

Funding for the EA-18G Growler is in the omnibus bill.
Credit Provided by Boeing

Blunt says that, while he supports lifting the ban on U.S. oil exports as one of the policy changes included in the bill, he would have preferred to see Congress block the administration’s ability to use funds to implement several other new rules including, the Waters of the United States rule, the Clean Power rule (which imposes increasing restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants), a Labor Department rule governing the fiduciary relationship between investment advisers and consumers, and a rule by the National Labor Relations Board concerning so-called joint employment (one Blunt sees as “upending” the relationship between workers and franchise owners).

Rep Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, also expressed “disappointment” that language known as a rider, is not included in the package concerning the fiduciary rule. She said the White House chose “politics over protecting low and middle income investors.” The result, she said, will make it harder for those investors to find affordable advice in planning for their retirements.

The White House sees the situation differently, and backs the rule to ensure that advisers provide assistance that is in the best interest of investors, rather than potentially providing advice that may increase their own earnings. More than 100 Democrats back legislation challenging the Labor Department’s rule.

Much of the direct benefit in the spending plan for to Missouri comes in the form of support for the state’s military community. Blunt says the federal government’s first priority is to protect the nation. “To that end, this legislation funds key defense priorities at Whiteman, Rosecrans, Fort Leonard Wood, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Missouri National Guard installations across the state,” Blunt said in a statement on the bill.

Provisions in the bill include:

  • $1 billion for seven EA-18G Growlers and five F-18E/F Super Hornets - built at Boeing’s St. Louis facility
  • $29.5 million for the construction of a 70,000-square-foot facility at Whiteman Air Force Base to enhance U.S. strategic stealth bomber and deterrence capabilities
  • $128.2 million for upgrades to C-130 aircraft at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base

Blunt, a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations, also backed funding for other national defense issues that will indirectly benefit the state. Those including $30 million for the Tomahawk missile system and $7.5 million to support the Army National Guard Cyber Protection Teams. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense selected Missouri as one of 29 states where additional cyber units will work to deal with emerging cyber threats to the U.S.

Wagner says the Growlers and Super Hornets are the workhorses “for naval combat operations and play a critical role in the fight against the Islamic State.”

Democrats still have some say

The primary reason lawmakers are considering the omnibus, rather than 12 separate appropriations bills is that Senate Democrats, although in the minority, have enough votes to block measures from being considered by the Senate. Republicans have 54 seats, but it takes 60 votes to overcome procedural obstacles available to the Senate minority. Senate Democrats had hoped that, by blocking the 12 appropriations bill, they could have persuaded Republicans to negotiate an end to the sequester. Under that rule, Congress has to balance increases with cuts.  In the end, lawmakers agreed to a budget plan that adds money for social and military spending.

Republicans in the House and the Senate say they hope to return to a normal process next year when considering the spending plan for the year that begins next October.

Blunt, as a member of the Senate Rules Committee is one of a few senators looking at possible rule changes that would allow more bills to move to the floor, but he says the process will follow the chamber’s established rules for changing rules. He also says, no changes will take place prior to the next Congress.

One of the biggest policy items not included in this package is any language to defund Planned Parenthood. Nor is there language in the measure allowing states to reduce what federal dollars go to the organization.

Earlier this year, that issue split House Republicans and led to the resignation of former Speaker John Boehner. Republicans are expected to try again next year to shift about $500 million away from Planned Parenthood to federally qualified health-care facilities across the country.