When Congress passes a Spending Bill, it's never just about the Money. Massive Omnibus Legislation like the deal agreed to late Sunday are a vehicle for all kinds of changes to American Policy. The headlines about the 1,665-page Bill surround its billions of dollars of new spending for the Military and Border Security, and the Total Absence of any Money for President Trump's Wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But while those issues have dominated the news during the high-stakes negotiations, the Bill also contains a long list of smaller Policy changes, on everything from Medical Marijuana to the official name of a certain type of crab.
These changes are often buried in legalese, and sometimes even Lawyers have difficulty determining what exactly they mean. But they will touch almost every aspect of the Country. And as with Congress’s refusal to Fund the Border Wall and make Major Cuts to Domestic Agencies, the changes clearly run against Trump's Policy Priorities.
Here are six Policy Changes, Big and Small, tucked into the Bill:
1. More Immigrant Workers: The Bill quietly increases the number of Non-Agricultural Quest workers who can receive a Temporary Visa to work in the United States. The Visa program, known as H-2B, is officially capped at 66,000 Visas per year, but the Spending Bill enables the Trump Administration to effectively double the number available this year, allowing as many as 69,000 additional Visas to workers in 2017. The actual Legislative language is confusingly written and Immigration Lawyers struggled at first to interpret it, to critics, an indication that Appropriators wanted to sneak the changes into the Bill with little fanfare. It’s what they did in last year’s Spending Bill as well, which allowed workers who came to the U.S. in 2013, 2014, or 2015 to return in a later year and not Count against the H-2B Cap.
Boosting the Cap from 66,000 to 135,000 would please the Business Community and infuriate many Labor Activists and Anti-Immigration hardliners who have long argued that Businesses exploit the H-2B program to undercut American Workers. It may never happen, the Authority to expand the program lies with the Secretary of Homeland Security, and it's hard to imagine the Trump Administration throwing open the door to tens of thousands of new Foreign Workers. But he now has that Power.
2. Protections for Medical Marijuana: This section of the Spending Bill isn’t actually New, but it takes on New importance with Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions leading the Department of Justice. The Bill blocks the Department of Justice (DOJ) from Spending Money to prevent States from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” That Measure was insignificant in previous years, because the Obama Administration took a lax attitude toward Enforcement of Federal Marijuana Laws. But Sessions has adopted a much tougher Anti-Drug Policy and has indicated that he may strictly Enforce Federal Marijuana Laws. For States that have Legalized Recreational Marijuana, he can do so. But when it comes to Medical Marijuana Laws, the new Bill significantly ties his hands.
3. Emergency Fund for Infectious Diseases: With the twin crises of Ebola and Zika, Washington has become more worried about the threat that Infectious Diseases pose to the United States. Experts have called for dedicated Funding and flexibility so that the Federal Government can quickly respond to Overseas outbreaks. This year’s spending Bill contains something of a down payment on such a plan, a $75 million Emergency Fund to address “emerging global threats.” The Funding comes from Global Health programs and the Legislation also allows the State Department to shift additional Funding from other accounts into the New Emergency Fund if an International Health Crisis takes place. It’s a real Legislative attempt to prepare for future Outbreaks, a rare example of Congress planning for the future on an issue that typically only receives attention when a Crisis actually hits.
4. More Visas for Afghans: The Bill also increases by 2,500 the number of “Special Immigrant Visas” available for Afghan Interpreters who helped the United States Military in Afghanistan. This Refugee program is strongly supported by Military Hawks like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who argue that the Visas are critical for U.S. National Security. Without them, they argue, the U.S. will face a Shortage of Interpreters, who will fear they will be targeted for helping the U.S. Armed Forces. Recently, as Trump has warned about the threats within U.S. Immigration and Refugee programs, the “Special Immigrant Visa” program has come under attack on Capitol Hill and almost wasn’t renewed at the end of last year.
5. New Front Against Russia: The Spending also includes Funding for one of the most controversial issues in Washington, Russia’s Influence on Global Politics. Lawmakers earmarked $100 million for a new “Countering Russian Influence Fund,” which specifically Targets the Money towards Civil Society groups that “strengthen democratic institutions and processes, and counter Russian influence and aggression.” This Money isn’t to Investigate Russia’s Intrusion in American Politics or the U.S. Presidential Election but instead is designed to Reduce Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia.
6. "Golden" Crabs: Not everything in the Spending Bill deals with hot button issues. Some of it deals with seafood Branding. The Legislation specifies that “the acceptable market name of Lithodes Aequispinus is ‘Golden King Crab.’” For almost every American, this might be meaningless, but it matters for Alaskan Crabbers. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration only permits the Lithodes Aequispinus to be labeled as a “Brown King Crab.” But “Golden King Crab” is more commonly used in Alaska, and, importantly, it sounds much more appealing to eat, a Trump-esque Branding move to improve Business.
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