Trump a winner in spending bill; retired miners out of luck
WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump emerges as a winner in the final version of the must-pass spending bill as congressional Republicans tacked on an expedited process for ensuring his nominee for defense secretary can serve.
Michigan’s city of Flint, struggling with lead-tainted water, gets some financial relief in the legislation and so does southern Louisiana, hard hit by flooding this past summer.
Retired coal miners and their families, who had counted on a decades-old guarantee for their pensions, are out of luck. And New York City is getting far less money than it requested for the costs of providing security around Trump Tower in Manhattan.
The House is scheduled to vote on the spending bill on Thursday; the Senate by week’s end. The legislation would keep the government operating beyond Friday’s deadline through April 28. Here’s a look at the winners and losers:
FAST-TRACK PENTAGON PICK
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick for defense secretary, is a well-received choice who should easily win confirmation from Senate Republicans and Democrats. The GOP used the stopgap spending bill to put him on a glide path.
Law requires a seven-year wait for former members of the military to serve in the civilian post of defense secretary, and Mattis retired in 2013. Ignoring complaints from Democrats, Republicans inserted provisions in the bill that would accelerate the process for changing the law in January.
The legislation to grant the legal exception Mattis needs will still take 60 votes, but the GOP has limited debate in the Senate to no more than 10 hours. And to ensure the bill is not bogged down in committee, the provisions direct that it be put on the Senate’s calendar for action within five days after being introduced.
“You’ll get that waiver, right?” Trump said to Mattis at a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday. “If you didn’t get that waiver, there will be such a lot of angry people.”
Democrats had argued that using the spending bill to expedite a change in the law sets a terrible precedent.
CONGRESS TO NEW YORK: DEAL WITH IT
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the government for $35 million to reimburse the NYPD for security costs around Trump Tower on busy Fifth Avenue from Nov. 8 to Jan. 20. The spending bill would provide just $7 million.
HELP FOR FLINT, MICHIGAN
The bill would provide $170 million to communities struck by contaminated drinking water, contingent on passage of a separate water bill authorizing the funds.
Flint’s drinking water became tainted when the city switched from the Detroit water system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The impoverished city was under state control at the time.
Regulators failed to ensure the water was treated properly and lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply.
Louisiana and other states dealing with damage from floods and drought will get $4.1 billion in disaster relief.
MINERS’ GUARANTEE SLIPS AWAY
In 1946, President Harry S. Truman brokered an agreement to guarantee miners’ lifetime health and retirement benefits, averting a lengthy strike. A significant portion of that promise is slipping away.
The spending bill includes $45 million to temporarily protect health care benefits for about 16,500 retired coal miners, mostly in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, whose benefits are set to expire at the end of the year. The deal, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., only lasts until April, when the bill expires, and does not protect pension benefits that also are at risk.
Democrats and some coal-state Republicans had pushed for a bipartisan bill that would protect retirement and health-care benefits for about 120,000 retired coal miners and their families.
That bill would have ensured that retired miners receive more than $250 million a year in benefits at risk amid the coal industry’s steep decline and bankruptcies of several large companies. Some of the funds could run out of cash by next year, according to the United Mine Workers of America.
McConnell and other GOP leaders are wary of bailing out unionized workers. Republicans also say the bill could pressure Congress to offer similar help to other cash-strapped pension funds.
NO SLEEP TILL CLEVELAND
The trucking industry and Republicans scored a major victory as the bill suspends regulations issued by the Obama administration requiring truckers to take two nights off to rest after a work week of up to 75 hours.
Truckers are required to take a 35-hour break at the end of a work week. But the trucking industry objected to requirements that the 35 hours include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sleep scientists say rest during the early morning hours is critical for people to feel refreshed. The suspension means truckers can head out on the road again during those hours if the 35-hour break has elapsed.
Another regulation that prevents truckers from working 75 hours, followed by a 35-hour break, and then resume driving again in the same week was also suspended.
Truck drivers are allowed to work up to 14 hours a day — 11 hours driving and three hours of other work like loading and unloading.
“This is going to result in more tired truckers on the highway,” said safety advocate Joan Claybrook.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Matthew Daly, Andrew Taylor and Joan Lowy contributed to this report.