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Congress released more than 2,200 pages of legislation in the dead of night. | AP



What’s really in the year-end tax and spending bill?

By Bernie Becker
12/16/15 – 04:24 PM EST

Congress released more than 2,200 pages of legislation in the dead of night — containing $1.1 trillion in spending, about $680 billion in tax cuts and a string of other policy changes.

Both the fossil fuel and alternative energy industries can count themselves as winners, following a trade of the decades-long ban on crude oil exports for an extension of wind and solar tax credits.

Syrian refugees, 9/11 first responders and the District of Columbia’s elementary and middle school sets are among the other winners. Obamacare, banks and even portrait artists look to be among the losers. And don’t forget hard apple cider — a winner, thanks to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is helping out upstate New York apple growers by updating tax laws surrounding the alcoholic refreshment.

Here’s a look at some of the other winners and a losers:


Syrian refugees: A big, bipartisan majority in the House just voted to place new limits on Iraqi and Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. But that measure didn’t make it into the omnibus spending measure, which instead includes an even more bipartisan proposal to require more visas for certain travelers.

9/11 first responders: The Zadroga Act, which provides benefits for first responders who got sick at Ground Zero, actually got a 75-year extension in the omnibus. The extension came about two weeks after Jon Stewart, the former “Daily Show” host and longtime supporter of the measure, made another trip to Capitol Hill to “shame” lawmakers into not forgetting the program.

Vladimir Putin: If you ask Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) at least. McCain accused a pair of senior appropriators, Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), of choosing “to reward Vladimir Putin and his cronies with a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars” in the omnibus, and he even threatened to vote against the spending bill. That’s because Shelby tucked a provision into the omnibus that removes restrictions on using Russian-made rocket engines for military space launches. The provision directly overrides the National Defense Authorization Act, which limited United Launch Alliance to nine Russian engines for competitive military space launches. Why? ULA, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture that builds its rockets in Alabama, has argued it won’t have enough Russian-made RD-180 engines for military launches until a U.S. alternative is ready.

Preschool programs: Head Start gets a funding bump of $570 million in the spending bill, up to $9.2 billion, in just the latest reflection of how early education has become a top priority for the White House and congressional Democrats. The Child Care and Development Block Grants would also get an extra $326 million, while grants designed to help states expand and improve pre-K education are also included.

Michelle Obama’s lunch program: The first lady and her nutrition standards won for another year. Schools that could show they were having trouble with a requirement of including whole-grain items in meals can still seek a waiver, and future restrictions on sodium would also be put on hold under provisions continued from last year’s year-end spending bill. Still, it remains a far cry from the all-out waiver that Republicans sought to put into appropriations legislation last year, a controversial move that sparked a public spat with Obama.

The IRS: The tax agency gets graded on a curve, after spending the last 2½ years in the GOP’s cross hairs for its improper scrutiny of tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status. But the IRS actually got a funding bump from a Republican Congress this year, after it disclosed that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers had their personal information compromised through an agency application.

Charitable groups: The nonprofit sector gets several of their tax priorities extended permanently — including incentives for contributing from retirement funds, donating food and land preservation.

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