House deal on spending drops Syrian refugee block

© Jim Bourg
A $1.1 trillion compromise reached by US lawmakers to keep the government funded through 2016 includes the bipartisan visa waiver reform, but not the GOP-backed bill restricting admission of Syrian refugees. Lawmakers also agreed on a tax package.

The 2,000-plus page omnibus spending bill was posted online early Wednesday. Under the self-imposed rule by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, that means the lawmakers will not get to vote on it until Friday. Another continuing resolution will have to be adopted Wednesday afternoon to keep the government funded.

Absent from the package was the 'American SAFE Act of 2015', requiring the top security officials to certify that Syrian refugees did not represent a security threat to the US before they could be admitted to the country. Also known as House Resolution 4038, the bill was adopted in November, with 48 Democrats joining the GOP majority favoring it.

Instead, the bill included the bipartisan reform of the Visa Waiver Program, adopted on December 8. Backed by the White House, the reform would impose travel restrictions on citizens of 38 countries currently able to enter the US without a visa, if they had traveled to Syria, Iraq, Sudan or other countries deemed terrorist “safe havens” in the past five years.

The compromise would see the ban on the exports of US crude oil lifted in exchange for subsidies for solar and wind energy, and renews the healthcare benefits package for 9/11 first responders and their families, known as the Zadroga Act. On the more sinister side, the omnibus bill includes the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), allowing companies to share customer data with federal agencies without privacy protections.

Another compromise was reached on the subject of tax breaks, where Republicans and Democrats each wrangled for support of their pet causes. While the GOP had to give ground in the omnibus spending bill, they got more of what they wanted in the tax package, Ryan told the House Republicans on Tuesday, according to The Hill.

“We didn't win everything we wanted,” Ryan said on Fox News Wednesday morning. “Democrats got some things they wanted. So that's the nature of compromises in divided government. But all told, we'll make sure that we keep government funded and that we advance some of our priorities.”

The 200-page tax package covers $560 billion in breaks that will no longer expire, and $650 billion in total tax relief over 10 years. One of the features of the compromise is a deferral of the so-called “Cadillac tax” on corporate health planes, intended to channel funds into President Barack Obama’s flagship healthcare reform plan.

The House is expected to vote on the tax package on Thursday and the spending omnibus on Friday, before adjourning for the holidays.