The federal spending bill aimed at forestalling a government shutdown arrived from behind closed congressional doors at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, giving House members 16 hours or so to devour its 2,232 pages before they started voting on it.
Let's say every lawmaker allocated a minute to read each page of it. Let's say every lawmaker was so devoted to this particular task that he or she decided to go without eating, sleeping and exercising routine bodily functions for 16 hours to delve as deeply as possible into this bill spending $1.3 trillion of the taxpayers' money.
Even with all that self-sacrifice, the last 1,272 pages of this big spending bill would go unread.
This is further proof that the federal budget process is broken. What's more, this isn't just a spending bill; it's what's members of Congress call "an omnibus" – a catch-all last-minute piece of serious legislation that doesn't just fund the government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, but that also does a whole lot of the kind of lawmaking that lawmakers hadn't finished in a serious, deliberate way over the previous year.
Let's take a look – admittedly an incomplete, hurried look – at some of this lawmaking:
Gun control, sort of: The omnibus includes what's called the "Fix NICS Act," a bipartisan piece of legislation that aims to improve the data that states report to the National Instant Criminal Background System, the database the federal government uses for checking whether prospective gun owners have criminal records. The Fix NICS Act doesn't broaden background checks to cover guns sold at gun shows; it simply forces states to report criminal data to the database more quickly. But it's the most significant piece of gun control legislation that this Congress is likely to pass.
Good news for waiters and waitresses: The bill blocks a Labor Department attempt to let restaurant owners "pool" the tip money that waiters and waitresses collect from customers – and maybe even keep some of that pooled money for themselves. The omnibus explicitly says: “An employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purposes, including allowing managers or supervisors to keep any portion of employees’ tips, regardless of whether or not the employer takes a tip credit.”
Meager wages for minor leaguers: The omnibus includes, of all things, something called the "Save America's Pastime Act." In essence, though, it should be called the "Let's Keep Minor Leaguers Living on Peanuts and Cracker Jack Act," in that it exempts minor league baseball players from most federal labor laws – including the minimum wage. This legislation attempts to block court action filed by minor leaguers fighting for better wages, but it also gives those ballplayers a minor raise, boosting their minimum salary from $1,100 a month to $1,160 a month.
Yucca Mountain, still blocked: The Trump administration's Energy Department had been quietly trying to restart long-dormant efforts to store nuclear waste at a remote Nevada site called Yucca Mountain, a move that Nevada lawmakers long opposed. The omnibus gave those Nevada lawmakers their way, in that it blocks the government from moving forward with its plan.
Buying Congress time: A number of issues have stood in the way of Congress revamping federal aviation policy in a bill that would reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. So the omnibus gives Congress more time to do that, extending the current aviation law through Sept. 30. Similarly, lawmakers haven't agreed on what to do about the troubled federal flood insurance program, so the omnibus simply extends the current troubled program through the end of July
Greater transparency: For the first time, this bill will require the Congressional Research Service's in-depth reports – a go-to source for really understanding complex issues and bills – be published online so the public can see them. Of course, the Congressional Research Service didn't publish any such analysis of the omnibus, because none of its green-eyeshade types even had time to read the bill, much less analyze it.
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