Horseburgers, Porn Riders and More in $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

An adult film actress in her apartment, which is frequently used as a filming location, in Los Angeles.

While there’s been a lot of coverage about the overall thrust of the $1.1 trillion “omnibus” spending bill that has cleared Congress, lawmakers in both parties expressed concern that there wasn’t enough time to read the whole thing.

Taxpayers for Common Sense says that, to have read it all before the first House vote on Jan. 15, someone would’ve had to have read more than a page a minute, nonstop, without sleep.

We had to divide the workload, but some 28 hours later, there were 12 separate analyses on Bloomberg Government covering every bit of the bill. About 16 hours after that, the House voted. Last night, the Senate voted.

The president will sign it.

Here are some of the things we found:

– 

No money for ACORN (even though it doesn’t exist any more ).

Appropriations bills come with all sorts of policy riders blocking spending on a whole host of things. Republicans wanted (but didn’t get) one blocking spending on Obamacare.

They did manage to get a few blocking or slowing some environmental regulations, though not nearly as many as they wanted.

 Many of them are annual holdovers. Among them, the bill blocks funding for ACORN, a group of community organizers that Republicans said, in addition to its legitimate endeavors, had widespread reports of employees encouraging fraud. It went bust in 2010.

– No Horseburgers. And definitely no porn.

Some of these riders veer into the more, shall we say, unusual.

Four different sections of the bill include a rider that would require computer networks funded by the measure to block the “viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography.” We hope that language was a “just in case” thing, not wording born of necessity. Because, well, obviously.

Some riders, though, are the result of long-standing campaigns, like one from the Humane Society, ASPCA and equestrian groups to ban horse meat for eating. Horse falls into the same sort of category as dog and dolphin (the Flipper kind, not mahi mahi). Some folks around the world eat it. In the U.S., it’s not usually on the menu — and those groups argue that it’s not just about taste, rather that the ways horses are slaughtered are often not quick and painless but egregiously painful and cruel.

The bill, on pages 84 and 85, bans the USDA from spending money to inspect horses at any point in the slaughtering process. Since USDA inspectors are required for slaughtering and butchering, it effectively blocks horse slaughter for food in the U.S.

– Widow’s benefit:

The bill does 

include a $174,000 payment to one woman in Florida
. Beverly Young is her name. She’s the widow of Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, who died in office in October. Traditionally the Congress gives one year’s worth of salary to the widows and heirs of members who die in office. It’s on page 985.

– A “Rose Bowl-Like Win” for Michigan State. Again.

Even in an age of no earmarks, there are several projects that local members win and tout. Increased funding for military academies, for instance, would be touted by lawmakers in New York, Maryland and Colorado, because that’s where they are.

For an example in this bill, let me go a little close to home.

The banks of the Red Cedar River in East Lansing, in fact. To Michigan State, my own alma mater.

MSU several years ago won a competition to be the location for what’s known as the FRIB, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. Essentially, it’s a particle accelerator that will generate isotopes that aren’t easily study-able, including ones not naturally found on Earth. MSU happens to be one of the best universities in the nation for nuclear science, and the project is hailed by locals as, if you’ll pardon the cliché, a game-changer.

Included in the bill: About $55 million for the FRIB, which will allow construction on the project itself to begin this year, according to a statement from Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

“This is a Rose Bowl-like win which enables MSU to initiate the construction of FRIB,” Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon said in the statement, “and moves us closer to realizing the full benefits of this project for science, for the people of Michigan and for the Nation.”

That analogy is no accident. Michigan State, as sports fans well know, beat Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

The omnibus was originally just one page long.

– Lost in the space bill:

H.R. 3547 started life as the “Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension Act.” Its purpose: To reduce liability costs for commercial space launch companies in case, say, a rocket misfires and accidentally flies into someone’s house.

The bill does that by allowing the Transportation Department to pay out excess claims above what an insurer will cover. It’s a routine extension of existing law that’s been done five times, though the provision has never actually been invoked.

So why did a space insurance bill get bundled up in the omnibus spending bill?

That’s a simple question with a complicated answer.

To get the bill through the House and Senate quickly enough to avoid government shutdown, leaders had to find what’s known in the Capitol as a “vehicle bill”, one that was already pretty far along in the process. Since appropriations are money bills and under the Constitution money bills have to start in the House, they wanted a House bill that had passed in the Senate but wasn’t yet enacted into law.

Ergo, space insurance.

They just tacked on 1,500-plus pages of government spending and went about the votes.

Space insurance is actually still in the bill. It’s four lines at the bottom of page five.

 

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