Surprises tucked in Senate bill (Video)

The legislation released by the Senate late Wednesday to reopen the government contains several surprises.

The bill includes extra funds to fix flooded roads in Colorado, a $3 million appropriation for a civil liberties oversight board and a one-time payment to the widow of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who died over the summer.

It also includes an increase in authorization for spending on construction on the lower Ohio River in Illinois and Kentucky. The bill increases it to $2.918 billion.

The Senate Conservatives Fund quickly called that language the “Kentucky Kickback,” and said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) secured that as the price of his support for the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense says the bill would increase total authorized spending by $1.2 billion.

Senate staffers were still scrambling to piece the bill together for votes in the House and Senate Wednesday night. Lawmakers hope to get it to President Obama’s desk before Thursday’s deadline for raising the debt ceiling.

A draft of the bill began circulating in the early evening, and a final version was released by Senate Democratic staff just before 6 p.m.

The legislation also includes specific language that aims to pay back furloughed federal government workers as soon as is practicable.

Section 115 of the text says government workers who are furloughed because of the shutdown “shall be compensated at their standard rate of compensation, for the period of such lapse in appropriations, as soon as practicable after such lapse in appropriations.”

Section 116 says states that funded a federal program will be compensated as well, and that the government will pay back states for these costs.

{mosads}The legislation broadly re-opens the government through Jan. 15, and extends the ability of the government to borrow money through Feb. 7. It does so by allowing President Obama to waive the debt ceiling, a move that can be overridden by a resolution of disapproval by Congress that Obama could still veto.

The Senate bill uses H.R. 2775 as a vehicle for all of these changes. That bill was originally a House GOP bill that would have delayed all health insurance subsidies until a system is put in place to verify incomes for eligibility purposes.

The Senate language does give that issue a nod, by including new rules for verifying household income to determine eligibility for subsidies to buy health insurance under ObamaCare. It specifically requires the government to “certify to the Congress that the Exchanges verify such eligibility.”

The secretary of Health and Human Services would have to submit a report to Congress detailing procedures used by the exchanges, and an inspector general report would be required by July 1.

Elsewhere, the bill allows the Department of Transportation to spend up to $450 million to fund the repair of Colorado roads that were damaged by floods. In September, the House passed a bill allowing the department to spend more than the $100 million cap on Colorado roads.

On the issue of District of Columbia funding, the bill gives the District the right to spend all of its local funds for the rest of fiscal year 2014, making it immune from any possible shutdown later in the fiscal year.

While the District collects its own tax revenue, it is restricted from spending it except through an act of Congress. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) described this language as an “historic first.”

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would get $3.1 million
under the bill. The board was set up in 2004 to ensure privacy concerns
are addressed as laws and regulations are issued related to fighting
terrorist threats against the country.

Lawmakers and President Obama have sought to jumpstart the board in the wake of the revelations about National Security Agency surveillance.

Another part of the bill, Section 148, holds that no adjustment shall be made related to a cost of living adjustment for members of Congress in fiscal 2014.

Finally, and as expected, it contains language requiring a payment of $174,000 to the widow of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who died in June at age 89. 

— This story was updated at 6:24 p.m. to include the text of the final Senate language.

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