Last modified Dec. 28, 2015, at 10:14 a.m.
The omnibus spending bill Congress passed earlier this month included $1 billion for a destroyer. Maine’s congressional representatives hope the contract goes to Bath Iron Works.
Passage of the 1,600-page, $1.1 trillion bill headed off a possible government shutdown, prevented another of the stopgap spending plans our lawmakers have made famous and it allowed the national debt to go up. It also included a number of added-on spending items, known on Capitol Hill as “riders.”
Our thanks to writers at The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and The Atlantic for spotting these items of interest to many consumers.
— A 1 percent pay raise for federal employees, starting Jan. 1, 2016. President Barack Obama ordered the increase and the omnibus bill retains it. Military service personnel will receive a similar raise, while pay for generals and flag officers are subject to a pay freeze.
— Multi-employer pension plans. The benefits of potentially millions of retirees could be cut to try to save some pension plans that are in financial trouble. There are about 1,400 such plans, most of them in good shape.
— More money for food safety. Funding for the Food and Drug Administration goes up $37 million from last year. The Food Safety Modernization Act gets $27 million in new funds, and there’s a $5 million increase for the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
— Some Dodd-Frank reforms reversed. The financial reform bill had required that banks “push out” some derivatives trading into other entities that did not have the backing of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Banks won a reversal of that rule; Democrats say that, in exchange, they received more funding for enforcement efforts by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
— Internal Revenue Service cuts. Funding for the IRS drops by $345.6 million. The agency also is barred from singling out organizations that cite ideological beliefs to get tax-exempt status.
— School lunch programs. Flexibility goes to school districts that can “demonstrate a hardship” when buying whole grain products. There also are less rigid sodium standards until they are supported by “additional scientific studies.”
— WIC and potatoes. The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program for low-income families gets $6.6 billion, down $93 million from the last fiscal year. But WIC will have to guarantee that “all varieties of fresh vegetables, including white potatoes, are eligible for purchase.”
— Tired truckers. The trucking industry won a round in the fight to require that drivers get two nights sleep before going back to work. That Department of Transportation regulation would have cut a typical driver’s workweek from 82 hours to 70. Maine Sen. Susan Collins had pressed for suspension of that rule in favor of more study.
— Safer tracks. The omnibus bill includes $3 million to expand inspection of about 14,000 miles of track used by trains that include oil tanker cars.
— Veterans reform bill funding. The bill that was passed last summer gets $209 million to deal with new costs, including added medical staff and expanding facilities. The Veterans Administration’s Office of the Inspector General receives an additional $5 million to keep investigating the “wait list scandal.”
— Light bulb choice. The spending bill limits enforcement of a 2007 law to end use of incandescent bulbs. While many consumers have switched, others may be able to find the older style a while longer.
— Saturday mail delivery. It continues, courtesy of the omnibus bill, despite years of efforts to cut the service to save money.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email email@example.com.