US House approves $1.4 trillion budget deal to avert shutdown

The deal sheds light on US priorities including cybersecurity along with risks associated with smoking and vaping.

Aerial Views Of Washington As White House Open To Extending Shutdown Deadline
The legislation worked out between leading lawmakers and the administration of United States President Donald Trump averts a partial government shutdown, but denies Trump the full $5bn he requested to help build his signature wall along the US-Mexico border [File: Al Drago/Bloomberg]

The United States House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a $1.4 trillion spending package to avert a partial government shutdown. The package would also raise the US tobacco purchasing age to 21 and permanently repeal several of the taxes affiliated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The spending package now heads to the US Senate, where lawmakers aim to approve it before current government funding runs out on Saturday. If they do, they will avoid the type of messy budget battle that resulted in a record 35-day interruption of government services late last year and early this year.

The legislation worked out between leading lawmakers and the Trump administration denies President Donald Trump the full $5bn he requested to help build his signature wall along the US-Mexico border, keeping funding static at $1.37bn for border barriers.

White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway said Trump is nevertheless expected to sign the $1.4 trillion bill this week. “He’s very happy with what he’s learned the final contents are expected to be,” Conway told reporters at the White House.

The spending package would change the minimum age for cigarettes, vaping devices and other tobacco purchases to 21 from the current 18. This crackdown on youth smoking would give the US Food and Drug Administration six months to develop regulations. The agency would then have three years to work with states on implementing the change.

The largest expenditure in the bill is for the Department of Defense, which would get a total of $738bn for this year, $22bn more than last year.

As part of that defence package, the Senate on Tuesday authorised the creation of Trump’s Space Force – the first new branch of the US military to be created in more than 60 years.

The bill also gives federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

The overall spending deal does not include big-ticket benefit programmes like Social Security and Medicare, which are funded separately.

The massive spending package comes as the US government is expected to have a higher-than-average budget deficit over the coming decade, fuelled in part by diminished revenue resulting from the 2017 Republican tax overhaul.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the US government will have a budget deficit of $960bn in the 2019 fiscal year, and average annual deficits of $1.2 trillion over the 2020 and 2029 fiscal years.

The sprawling package includes $425m in additional federal grants to help local governments prepare for the November 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

Some of the money would be used to harden infrastructure against cyberattacks following election meddling by Russia in 2016.

Negotiators settled on $7.6bn for conducting next year’s census, which is done once every 10 years. That would be $1.4bn more than Trump proposed.

The bill also allocates $25m for federal gun violence research, following a decades-long suspension of such funding.

All of the money would fund government programmes through September 30, 2020, the end of the current fiscal year.

The legislation would repeal several taxes originally created to help fund the 2010 ACA, popularly known as Obamacare. These taxes had been delayed or were only intermittently in effect.

The new bill calls for a permanent repeal of the so-called “Cadillac tax”, a 40 percent tax on generous health insurance plans.

It had aimed to encourage corporations to buy lower-cost plans for employees, but was opposed by many unions that had negotiated their health insurance plans and by businesses that said it was a benefit workers valued. The tax was delayed and never went into effect.

The spending bill would also repeal the 2.3 percent tax on the sale of medical devices such as catheters and pacemakers, which drew opposition from bipartisan lawmakers who said it hurt innovation at medical device companies.

Another tax to be repealed is an industry-wide health insurance fee of about 2.5 to 3 percent of premiums collected.

Source: Reuters