For years, critics have been fulminating while watching lawmakers take little or no action on crucial spending and taxing matters.
This week, at least, the "do-nothing Congress" label won't stick.
On Thursday, the U.S. House approved a massive package of tax breaks worth $622 billion, voting 318-109. On Friday, the House will vote again, this time on a $1.1 trillion spending package.
Also on Friday, the Senate is expected to pass both the tax and spending packages. If all goes as planned, both measures will be shipped off to President Obama for his signature — and lawmakers will head home for the holidays.
Passage would accomplish two huge goals:
1. Fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
2. Extend or revive dozens of business and individual tax breaks — making some permanent.
Conservatives are unhappy with the spending bill, saying it's too costly, while liberals are angry about the tax package, saying it sets the wrong priorities. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters "we have serious unease in our caucus."
Despite such complaints, most lawmakers are expressing support, and business groups are pushing hard for final passage. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement that "while far from perfect," the tax breaks and spending priorities "will strengthen economic growth, create jobs, and enhance America's competitiveness and security."
The White House is on board because Republican leaders have kept the legislation free of "riders" dealing with hot-button issues like Planned Parenthood and Syrian refugees.
"The Administration appreciates the bipartisan effort to provide full-year appropriations legislation for FY 2016 largely free of new unrelated ideological riders," the White House said in a statement.
Besides accomplishing the two major goals, the legislation provides help — or harm — to many industries. Here are a few of the business winners and losers.
- Oil companies. Since 1975, Congress has prohibited the export of most domestic oil to reduce dependence upon foreign oil. But these days, the country is awash in oil, so companies have been arguing for an end to the export ban. They got their wish.
- Medical-device makers. The legislation suspends an excise tax on medical devices for two years.
- Meatpackers. The legislation repeals country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat. Meatpackers such as Tyson Foods Inc. oppose such labels, saying they unnecessarily complicate supply chains. Consumer advocates say they help shoppers make decisions about what they eat.
- Wall Street. The financial services industry wanted Congress to erect roadblocks to keep the Obama administration from imposing new regulations on investment advisers. It didn't get its wish.
- Puerto Rico. The legislation did not include any direct debt relief for Puerto Rico, which is struggling to make payments on $72 billion in debt.
- Horse meat lovers. The government defunds horse slaughter inspections by the USDA and prohibits establishment of new horse slaughterhouses.
- Sledders. Kids living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood defied police last year and slid down the snow on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The bill urges, but does not order, authorities to look the other way should sledders appear this year.