Congress passes spending bill, ends oil export ban

WASHINGTON – Congress has passed a $1.1 trillion spending measure that averts a U.S. government shutdown, ends a 40-year ban on crude oil exports, and ensures fiscal peace in Congress through most of 2016.

The Senate passed the bill 65-33 on Friday, shortly after a 316-113 House vote. The legislation, which will finance the government through September 2016, goes to President Barack Obama, who plans to sign it.

“Let’s take steps – as the legislation we’ll consider proposed – to support more jobs, more opportunity, and more economic growth,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor. “I think it’s legislation worth supporting.”

The end of the ban on most U.S. crude oil exports is a “big win,” according to House Speaker Paul Ryan, and it’s a top priority for Republicans. Democrats call it a giveaway to oil companies, and in exchange they negotiated extensions of environmental measures including solar and wind energy tax credits.

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The two measures, combined in H.R. 2029, include about $680 billion in revived tax breaks over the next 10 years. A number of them would be made permanent, including those for business research and development, small business expenses, individual deductions for state and local sales taxes, and financing rules for multinational corporations.

The research tax break will be “a booster shot for the innovation economy in America,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. Nonetheless, he voted against the bill because he said it contained “unacceptable” provisions weakening oversight of government surveillance.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have fought over taxing and spending for years, causing a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013 and twice bringing the United States to the brink of a default on the federal debt. Public opinion polls blamed Republicans for the turmoil, and the party under Ryan – elected Oct. 29 to replace John Boehner – wanted to avoid a repeat with the 2016 presidential election approaching, to show that Republicans can govern.

The outcome of the House vote on the spending measure was not without drama. Even though Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed the plan and urged fellow Democrats to vote for it, she had said Thursday she wasn’t confident her party could deliver enough votes to help Ryan get it passed. A number of conservative members of the Republican majority opposed the measure because they said it spends too much money.

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“It is going to bust the deficit. We are not doing anything for yet another year to take the debt burden off our kids and grandkids,” Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana said Thursday.

Senators voting for the bill include 27 Republicans, 37 Democrats and one independent, while 26 Republicans, six Democrats and one independent opposed it.

Voting for the bill in the House were 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats, while 95 Republicans and 18 Democrats opposed it. Ryan relied on Democratic votes to help pass the measure as Boehner often had to do. The former speaker’s penchant for turning to Democrats for votes was a major complaint of the Republican insurgents who ousted him.

Still, Ryan got support from more than the 79 Republicans who voted for a two-year budget plan the day before he became speaker. Ryan emphasized this week that the spending bill is the product of a process he inherited from Boehner and that he’ll pursue a different strategy next year.

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“They had to put big oil in the omnibus” to get the spending measure passed, Pelosi told reporters Friday before the vote. Democrats had wanted the oil provisions to be added to the tax proposal instead.

Conservatives were unhappy when the final version omitted some policy provisions they wanted, including defunding Planned Parenthood and blocking Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican presidential contender, criticized Republican leaders in an opinion article in Politico that said the bill “effectively forfeits our massive Republican victories of 2014 and cements Obama’s priorities for nearly the full remainder of his term.”

In a letter Thursday urging fellow Democrats to support the spending bill, Pelosi wrote, “Personally, I was dismayed by Republicans’ insistence on lifting the oil export ban.” But she said Republicans’ “desperate thirst for lifting the oil export ban empowered Democrats to win significant concessions throughout the omnibus, including ridding the bill of scores of deeply destructive poison pill riders.”

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the lead Republican pushing oil export legislation in the House, said, “There are a lot of Republicans upset by what is not in the bill, there are a lot of Democrats who are upset because of what is in the bill.”