Ahead Of Shutdown Deadline, Congress To Vote On Spending Bill

Dec 17, 2019
Originally published on December 17, 2019 9:52 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A few lines of a federal spending bill offer meaningful changes in American life. For the first time in decades, the government will fund research on gun violence. The federal government will set a new minimum age for using tobacco - 21. And federal workers get their largest raise in some time. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been reading through parts of an enormous spending bill which has been agreed upon. Hi there, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what have lawmakers been doing while we've all been focused on impeachment?

SNELL: Well, they have spent the last several months working out two huge spending packages. They're based on this big spending caps deal that they reached back in July, and then they couldn't ever figure out how to actually spend the money that they agreed to spend. So it's taken them all of this time to reach the deal. And, you know, this is really big. It's more than a thousand pages. But if you talk to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, she says it's part of the job that she was sent here to do.

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NITA LOWEY: The Appropriations Committee is charged with one of Congress' most awesome responsibilities - the power of the purse. I'm proud that we have used that power to make investments that will give every American a better chance at a better life.

SNELL: Now, it's important to remember the House and the Senate still have to pass this. And there have been, you know, difficulties in getting spending bills passed in, you know, the past. But this was worked out with the White House. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was part of these talks. It's kind of an odd job for a treasury secretary to do, but he has a good amount of great relationships with Democrats and Republicans.

INSKEEP: Did everybody want to have this matter settled heading into an election year, perhaps?

SNELL: That is a big part of it. They also just wanted to have some certainty. If you're going to go into impeachment, it's probably good to tell the American people that you've got the government running.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about some of these details. The federal government allowing gun research - this overturns an effective ban - what became an effective ban since the 1990s.

SNELL: Yeah. This is - Democrats were not able to get gun control language in the spending bill, but they are getting $25 million for gun violence research. And that is a big change.

INSKEEP: The idea being that, as with other public health problems, if you had more research, maybe you would find more solutions that would be more politically acceptable to more people, right?

SNELL: That's right. And Democrats are touting this as one of the major victories in this bill.

INSKEEP: There's also the matter of the age of tobacco going up to 21 - both Democrats and Republicans OK with that?

SNELL: This is a very bipartisan bill - part of the bill. It was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in negotiations with several Democrats, including Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Tim Kaine of Virginia. So this is a big bipartisan win.

INSKEEP: Can I ask about one other thing, Kelsey Snell? You and I, in recent years, have both benefited because we work for a company that gives some weeks of paid family leave. Now federal workers get 12 weeks. How's that happened?

SNELL: Yeah, this is part of a different very large bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. It is a massive defense bill that they have to pass every single year. But Democrats worked with the White House on this to get paid family leave through. They worked with Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, on this. It was a major issue for her.

INSKEEP: And let's just figure this out. There's already 12 weeks of unpaid family leave that anybody in America can claim. And now it's 12 weeks of paid family leave for federal workers. Could that have an influence beyond federal workers?

SNELL: That is what the Democrats say is they hope that the federal government is kind of setting a new standard for America, and that if the federal government is going to paid leave, then private employers will have to follow suit.

INSKEEP: Because we are talking about millions of people, just the ones working for the federal government.

SNELL: Yeah, absolutely. And it is one of those changes that both sides are saying that really makes a big difference in people's lives.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.