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What's in the whopping budget deal Congress just passed? A basket of goodies

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/9/2018 Eliza Collins and Maureen Groppe
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Video by Wochit News

WASHINGTON — Congress passed a $400 billion budget deal early Friday morning that busted through previous spending caps and suspended the debt limit for a year. It also included money for disaster relief, opioid treatment and veterans, as well as a six-week spending package to keep the lights on at government agencies while a year-long spending bill gets drafted.

But the whopping 652-page document has plenty of additional provisions tucked in, here are a few:

Some tax breaks to continue

There are a number tax breaks that expired at the end of 2016 but will now be renewed retroactively for 2017 so that people can claim them on this year’s tax returns. Fiscal conservatives didn’t like the extension of the breaks because they said the point of the tax reform bill passed late last year was to do away with temporary, targeted tax breaks. But the new budget deal included them anyway.

“There should now be no need to extend any expiring tax provision. If a provision wasn’t extended in the tax reform bill, Congress has already determined that provision’s long-term fate,” Taxpayers for Common Sense, an advocacy group critical of extenders, said in a statement.

Some of the folks who will see their tax benefits include owners of certain race horses and motorsport entertainment complexes and certain types of energy production facilities.

Kentucky college benefits

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., helped draft the budget agreement and a school in his home state would enjoy the benefits. The bill includes a provision that would help a small school called Berea College, which does not charge tuition. The provision would exempt schools that don’t charge tuition from having their endowments taxed. It was supposed to be in a tax reform bill that passed last year, but was stripped out at the last minute.

Climate change tax credits

The bill includes language extending and expanding a tax credit to reward companies for practicing “carbon capture and storage,” an expensive process supporters say can extract up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions generated from the use of fossil fuels in producing electricity and other industrial processes. The measure has bipartisan support: Republicans like that the process helps industry extract hard-to-reach oil and natural gas deposits and Democrats like it because of its potential to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

A controversial panel created by the Affordable Care Act to control Medicare costs has been eliminated. The Independent Payment Advisory Board had not been operating because Medicare spending hadn't reached levels that would trigger the advisory group to make recommendations to Congress on how to cut cost. But it has been a political target since former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin dubbed it a "death panel," arguing it would lead to rationing of care.

Cut prescription drug costs for seniors

The bill accelerates changes made in the Affordable Care Act to reduce the amount of out-of-pocket costs a senior has to pay for drug coverage. The so-called "doughnut hole" in Medicare's drug benefit will be eliminated one year earlier than it would have been under the ACA.

Cash for mental health and opioid crisis

Many health initiatives will get a boost, including $6 billion targeted to fight the opioid epidemic and fund mental health initiatives. The legislation extends the government's major health insurance program for lower-income children an additional four years beyond a six-year renewal Congress recently approved. The bill also increases funding for community health centers, which serve lower-income patients. It delays Medicaid cuts to hospitals that serve large shares of poor people, adds funds to repair and rebuild veterans’ health clinics, and boosts funding for medical research.

Disaster assistance — including for churches

Communities hit by last year’s hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters would benefit from more than $80 billion in disaster relief money. The bill replenishes FEMA’s disaster fund with $23 billion for immediate response, and adds $5 billion in Medicaid spending for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The Army Corps of Engineers gets more than $17 billion, mostly for projects aimed at reducing the risk of damage from future storms. New funding would also help rebuild homes, restock food banks, restart schools, compensate farmers for lost crops, and help small businesses and military installations recover from damages. The bill also lets churches and other religious organizations receive disaster assistance, which civil liberties groups say violates the Constitution. 

Rural internet access

The bill includes $20 billion that lawmakers say will be used for improving roads, water treatments plants, broadband in rural areas and energy infrastructure.

Help for retirees with failing pensions

The bill creates a special committee to recommend steps to help miners and other retirees with failing pension plans without damaging the federally managed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a backstop for private pension plans. The committee is supposed to come up with a fix by the end of the year.

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