$1.1 Trillion Bill to Avoid Federal Shutdown Covers Many Local Interests
By ERIC LIPTON and JONATHAN WEISMANJAN
WASHINGTON — A cryptic reference turns up on Page 399 of a
six-inch-thick piece of legislation that congressional appropriators
unveiled Monday night, calling for an extra $155 million worth of
financing for the Department of Energy to promote its nuclear
This is the same program — helping for-profit companies build a new
generation of small nuclear reactors — that has been called a
boondoggle by some spending watchdog groups. But lawmakers, including
Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, pressed by industry
lobbyists, opted to increase the program’s budget by 21 percent above
the Obama administration’s request.
“I’m very pleased with that development,” said Mr. Alexander, adding
that he met with one of the main beneficiaries, the Babcock & Wilcox
Company, two months ago and was assured that the program was “on
schedule and on budget.” The first two nuclear reactors are being
built in Oak Ridge, Tenn. — 30 minutes from the senator’s hometown.
The extra money for nuclear programs is a hint of the kind of
deal-making in the 1,582-page spending bill, which leaders in both
parties are urging their members to quickly pass into law to avoid
another government shutdown. The House is expected to do so on
The $1.1 trillion bill marks the first time in two years that
individual lawmakers have been able to put an imprint on virtually
every part of the federal budget, and they did so in ways subtle and
Lawmakers are again boasting about bringing home the bacon, whether it
is Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, bragging on Tuesday
about the new KC-46A refueling plane and P-8A Poseidon military
aircraft to be built by Boeing in her state, or the three House
Democrats from California taking credit for money they won to expand a
border crossing near San Diego.
“Unfortunately, pork barrel seems to be back in vogue,” said Senator
John McCain, Republican of Arizona, a critic of the resurgent
Democrats were able to wedge in hundreds of millions of dollars to
kick-start President Obama’s universal preschool initiative, even as
Republicans continued to claim they had blocked it. Republicans
secured provisions blocking regulations on small farms, coal plants
and mine waste, even as Democrats boasted they had rebuffed such
The budget package also was a way for Republicans to push a political
agenda, severely cutting administration requests for financing of the
Securities Exchange Commission and a second agency that is responsible
for carrying out the Dodd-Frank law that regulates Wall Street. They
also cut Internal Revenue Service spending in the wake of the agency’s
efforts to place political groups under extra scrutiny.
A billion-dollar public health fund created by the Affordable Care Act
survived in name only. Republicans made sure that every cent of the
money was parceled out to programs that are not connected to the
The Energy Department’s budget increase stands to primarily benefit
two companies: Babcock & Wilcox, based in Charlotte, N.C., and NuScale
Power, owned in large part by the Fluor Corporation, an engineering
and contracting firm in Irving, Tex.
The two companies have already been picked to receive as much as $450
million in federal cost-sharing grants to help them build a new type
of reactor that is smaller, and considered safer, than the traditional
design. But with recent federal budget cutbacks, financing had slowed.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington group that searches federal
budgets for wasteful spending, targeted the reactor program last year,
saying that private companies should spend their own money to
determine if the technology can prove commercially viable.
“The reality is we absolutely cannot afford to pile more
market-distorting subsidies for profitable companies,” the group
wrote, in awarding the Golden Fleece award to the Department of Energy
for the program, called Small Modular Reactors.
But the industry asked that Congress accelerate the program, backing
it up with repeated visits by industry lobbyists and with campaign
contributions to lawmakers, including Mr. Alexander. He is the top
Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the
Energy Department budget and the top Senate recipient of donations
from Babcock & Wilcox.
Financing for the program was increased by $43 million, above the
administration’s request, one of the largest parts of the $155 million
overall boost in spending advocated by the budget negotiators for the
Energy Department’s nuclear program.
Lawmakers also worked behind the scenes to secure special provisions
in the package, known as riders, that push their political goals —
measures that at times benefit specific industries.
Representative Harold Rogers, a coal-country Republican from Kentucky,
secured a measure that prohibits the United States Export-Import Bank
and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from cutting export
financing for coal-fired power plants that do not meet the Obama
administration’s proposed standard for cutting carbon emissions, a
measure strongly advocated by industry lobbyists.
Another policy provision blocks the Army Corps of Engineers from even
looking at its definition of “fill,” the earthen material left from
coal mines. In the early years of the Bush administration, the
definition of fill was significantly loosened, allowing coal companies
to push rubble from mountaintops into valleys and streambeds.
Environmental groups pressed the administration to bring back the old
definition, a campaign made easier by this month’s chemical spill in
West Virginia, which highlighted the contamination of the state’s
The preschool initiative is another illustration of both parties’
delicate political dance. When the spending bill was unveiled Monday
night, Mr. Rogers of Kentucky, the chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee, boasted that the president got no money for
preschool development grants he has loudly promoted. But advocates say
the president’s “preschool-for-all” proposal did get financing through
Democrats secured $250 million to help states finance efforts to
develop preschool quality standards, kindergarten entry assessments,
professional development for educators and other support programs. A
large increase in Head Start financing was billed as makeup money
after the popular program took a significant blow last year from the
spending cuts known as sequestration. And about $500 million of the
Head Start increase is for “early Head Start,” preschool by a
“It is unquestionably a small down payment” on universal preschool,
said Catriona Macdonald, the Washington team leader for the First Five
Years Fund, an advocacy group. “What this signals is that Republicans
and Democrats see momentum for early childhood, and I think that will