WASHINGTON – A divided Congress has reached agreement on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government for the 2016 budget year and extend $680 billion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation once Congress passes it. Here are the highlights:
—Family tax credits. Permanently extends recent changes to the $1,000 child tax credit that make it refundable to families with little tax liability; makes permanent a $2,500 college tuition tax credit and a more generous credit for low-income working families.
—Sales tax deduction. Permanently extends a deduction of state and local sales taxes in states without an income tax.
—Business tax breaks. Permanently extends several business tax breaks, including the research and development credit and a deduction for small business equipment purchases. Extends tax deduction for “bonus” depreciation of business property purchases and a variety of breaks for race horses, NASCAR tracks and television and film production. Extends tax breaks for energy produced from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy and tax breaks for biodiesel fuels and electric cars and motorcycles.
—Provides $1.15 trillion to fund the daily operating budgets of Cabinet agencies through Sept. 30, 2016, including $607 billion for defence, which contains $59 billion for overseas military operations. Non-defence programs would receive $543 billion. The departments of Justice, Veterans Affairs and Defence won generous increases, as did NASA.
HEALTH CARE LAW
—Delays for two years the scheduled 2018 implementation of a “Cadillac tax” on more generous health insurance plans; imposes a two-year pause in a 2.3 per cent tax on medical devices and a one-year delay in a tax on health insurance providers.
—Blocks funds for “risk corridors” in which the government provides relief to health insurers with deep losses.
—Repeals the four-decade ban on exports of U.S. crude oil.
—Reauthorizes national intelligence programs.
—Tightens several security requirements of the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without visas. A key element would deny visa waivers to those who have travelled to countries such as Syria and Iraq in the past five years.
—Includes cybersecurity legislation that would encourage companies to share cyber threat information with the government.
—Extends a program championed by the New York delegation that provides health care and disability payments to 9-11 first responders who worked in the toxic ruins of the World Trade Center. Adds a new compensation fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism, including the American hostages held in Iran from 1979 through 1981 and victims of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
—Reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes fees from offshore oil and gas production to create national parks, purchase buffers zones around rivers and lakes and provide matching grants for state and local projects.
ODDS & ENDS
—Requires the Food and Drug Administration to write rules for labeling genetically modified salmon before it is sold in the United States. The provision is a victory for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who says the sale of such “Frankenfish” could hurt her state’s wild salmon industry. The FDA approved the salmon last month.
—Repeals a law that requires labels on beef and pork saying where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The World Trade Organization had ruled against the labels, and Canada and Mexico were set to economically retaliate against the United States as soon as this month.
—Directs, at the behest of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., at least $160 million to a financially troubled “clean coal” power plant in Kemper County, Mississippi.
—Provides $390 million toward construction of a new FBI headquarters that principal sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., hopes will be built in her state’s Prince Georges County.
—Restricts the Labor Department in implementing new rules governing seasonal workers under the H-2b visa program and increases the “cap” on such visas.
—Blocks the IRS from issuing new rules designed to limit the political activities of groups seeking a non-profit designation.
—Prohibit companies from spinning off their property into real estate investment trusts.
—Prohibits the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development from supporting non-governmental email accounts or servers. The provision follows significant controversy in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state.
—Effectively overrides a policy against sledding on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.