Meanwhile, several tax break bills speeding through Congress renew a controversial credit for wind turbines and end Medicare’s program to pay for penis pumps for senior citizens suffering erectile dysfunction.
Lawmakers were in year-end mode, looking to clear up business and clear out of Washington well before Christmas, dropping the curtain on what’s been a singularly unproductive Congress.
But some said the rush to go home led to approving special interest giveaways that never could have passed in normal circumstances.
The national parks and other land deals attached to the defense bill sparked a bitter dispute, with those on both sides of the aisle decrying a “land grab” being pushed as part of the bill to set benefit levels and military policy for U.S. troops.
“It is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican.
“The bill represents a bipartisan, bicameral agreement that ensures that our troops and their families have the resources they need to protect our freedoms in an increasingly dangerous world,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Rules, which locked in the procedures to speed the bill through.
But dissenters registered their disapproval with the process.
“You would expect that in 1,600 pages, there would be both good and bad. But these so-called ‘Christmas tree’ pieces of legislation that lump totally unrelated issues into ‘must-pass’ bills such as the NDAA are a terrible way to run a government,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, South Carolina Republican.
He said he realized his protest vote was going to be swamped by his colleagues who voted in favor, but said he hoped he sent a message.
“Unless enough of us start objecting to the way things are done in Washington, then nothing will ever change,” he said.
Next up after the defense and lands bill is an omnibus spending bill, which will likely have even more special interest projects tucked inside it, and no chance for amendments, leaving lawmakers again with an all-or-nothing choice on legislation that will likely come in at about $1.1 trillion in spending.
Just as important as what’s on the must-pass to-do list are the items leaders have left off of it.
House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that he will push off until next year a new debate about authorizing the war against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
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