A contentious $1.1 trillion spending bill as well as debates over federal regulations and trade capped a week that saw Congress end its work for the year.
The following is a breakdown of the week that was in the nation’s capital:
CONTROVERSIAL OMNIBUS SPENDING BILL APPROVED
The House and Senate voted Friday by overwhelming margins to approve a $1.1 trillion spending bill that sets government funding through Sept. 30, 2016.
The House voted 316-113 while the Senate voted 65-33 on HR 2029, which now heads to the president’s desk for his signature. The House delegation was split on the vote as U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted yes, with U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs voting no.
U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., voted no. Arkansas’ senior Senator said the bill included the repeal of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), funding for the Delta Regional Authority and some tax benefits for small businesses, but the “irresponsible spending” outweighed the positives.
“This is a setback to efforts to control federal spending. This $1.1 trillion bill grows the federal government and busts the budget caps with $50 billion in new spending. This bill does little to provide regulatory relief for Arkansas farmers, small businesses and community banks, while continuing to fund the worst of the Obama administration’s overreach,” Boozman said in a statement.
Hill said while the bill was not perfect, but its objectives were.
“Throughout the course of this year, the House passed all twelve appropriations bills out of Committee and passed six of those bills out of the House. This is how the appropriations process should work, and if the Senate Democrats hadn’t stymied regular order and dealt with individual appropriations bills in a timely way and the President hadn’t insisted on holding military funding hostage to support more deficit spending for his domestic agenda, we would not have had to pass this after-midnight spending deal today,” Hill said.
WOTUS WORK FOUND TO BE ILLEGAL
An announcement this week that the Environmental Protection Agency broke federal law in its support for a federal waters regulation drew the ire of the state’s two United States senators.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Government Accountability Office found that the federal agency used social media to push for support of the regulation.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said the finding showed the EPA’s real intent with the regulation, which has grown complaints from farmers who have said the regulations would be oppressive.
“The EPA’s illegal campaign shows the desperate measures the agency was willing to take to hide the overwhelming opposition to WOTUS. The GAO ruling proves that this was a manufactured public relations campaign unknowingly funded by taxpayers who oppose this EPA power-grab. It’s proof that the Obama Administration is willing to break the law to get its way,” Boozman said.
“The GAO’s ruling is another important step toward overturning the misguided Waters of the United States rule completely. Rest assured, I will work to continue the fight against this rule and against EPA overreach.”
CRAWFORD PART OF CUBA WORKING GROUP
A group of 10 lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, will work on ways to build better relations between the United States and Cuba. The Cuba Working Group will build on agriculture, trade and other issues, Crawford said in a statement this week.
“The best approach to change between Cuba and U.S. relations is to make cautious and incremental changes to current Cuba policies in ways that benefit the United States and introduce the Cuban people to American products. Not only is it estimated that Cuba imports around 80 percent of its food supply, but the US also enjoys an inherent advantage due to our close geographic proximity and state of the art production and food distribution infrastructure,” Crawford said. “Agriculture trading partnerships with Cuba will help build a foundation of goodwill and cooperation that will open the door to long-sought reforms in the same the way that American influence has brought reform to other communist states.”
Crawford will be joined by U.S. Reps. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, Tom Emmer, R-Minn., Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., Ted Poe, R-TX, Kathy Castor, D-Fla., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in the working group.
The House will head back to Washington, DC on Jan. 5, while the Senate will reconvene Jan. 11.