HELENA — In recent years, as the end of December approached, leaders in Congress have frequently rolled huge numbers of policy and spending priorities into a single massive omnibus bill – and this year is no different.
Early Tuesday morning, lawmakers unveiled a $1.7 trillion funding package – 4,155 pages in length. It could get a final vote by the end of the week, as Congress tries to avoid a government shutdown.
Members of Montana’s congressional delegation are now talking a lot about what made it into the bill – and what didn’t.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester touted a number of provisions in the omnibus package.
“Over the past year, I’m proud to have taken input from Montanans and military leaders to craft a government funding bill that invests in rural America and boosts our national security by making targeted investments in our armed forces,” he said in a statement. “This legislation will strengthen rural America by delivering resources to keep our communities safe, grow small businesses, improve our food systems, and lower costs for Montana’s families. It will also ensure that the United States keeps its competitive edge over China by making targeted investments in our armed forces so that our troops have the resources, technology, and training needed to protect our country.”
In a release Tuesday, Tester’s office highlighted a vast array of funding included in the proposed bill, from repair costs for Butte’s federal courthouse to maintenance on rural water systems to money for tribal health and justice systems.
Tester also pointed to significant provisions to support the military and veterans. That includes $5 billion for a “Cost of War Toxic Exposure Fund,” to implement the PACT Act passed earlier this year. The omnibus puts more than $100 billion into the VA medical system, including millions of dollars for upgraded infrastructure at Fort Harrison.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines pushed to include the “SAFE Banking Act” in the omnibus package. That measure, which Daines was one of the chief GOP advocates for, would allow legally operating medical and recreational marijuana businesses in states like Montana to access banking services. Currently, the industry runs largely on cash, which supporters see as a public safety issue.
However, the provision wasn’t part of the final agreement. This week, Daines blamed Democratic leaders in the Senate for the act’s failure to move forward, saying in a statement he believed it could have gotten enough support to pass if it moved through regular order.
One of Daines’ priorities that did make it into the bill is a revision to rules on conservation easements, limiting when investors can claim large tax deductions. Daines and other senators from both parties say the current rules have been abused by bad actors.
In some cases, provisions in the omnibus tackled things both Tester and Daines have prioritized. They include a tax code update so that first responders aren’t taxed on compensation they receive for injuries in the line of duty. The package also includes $916 million to continue Yellowstone National Park’s recovery from the severe flooding in June. In addition, it authorizes the building of a hydroelectric facility at Gibson Dam, on the Sun River west of Augusta – something Tester, Daines and Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale have all called for. The omnibus provides additional support for telehealth and a variety of mental health programs.
But while some of Daines’ goals are in the bill, he expressed opposition to the package as a whole. In a statement, he said combining everything into an omnibus wasn’t the right way to handle budgeting.
“At a time when Montanans are facing sky-high prices at the grocery store and gas pump, I can’t support another massive 4,000-plus-page package that is full of perks for special interests and packed with wasteful spending,” he said. “Washington’s budget process is broken and instead of getting our financial house in order—Democrat leadership waited until the 11th hour to push a giant bill full of back room deals through the Senate. I can’t stand by and support this fiscal insanity.”
Rosendale has also blasted the omnibus plan, calling it excessive spending. He is one of 13 current and incoming lawmakers who signed a letter this week, urging Republicans to block it so the incoming House GOP majority can negotiate a new deal in 2023.
“It is unthinkable for Republicans to support a multi-trillion dollar omnibus bill that authorizes more wasteful spending, will drive record inflation rates higher, and saddles generations with more debt,” Rosendale said in a tweet Tuesday.