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Here's What You Should Know About The $1.8 Trillion Spending Bill


We're going to talk money now - your money. Over $1 trillion of it is in the new tax and spending package that President Obama signed last week before leaving for the holidays. It includes over $600 billion in tax breaks, and to parse what's inside this huge piece of legislation, we're joined now by NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis. Hi, Susan.


SIEGEL: Let's start with the spending side of the deal. What does the $1 trillion fund?

DAVIS: OK, so $1 trillion is what it costs to run the federal government for one year. So this money's going to run through September of 2016. Half of the trillion dollars goes to defense spending and the Pentagon. The other half goes to domestic spending - everything from prisons to parks. So there's also about 74 billion in there that goes to the military operations that we have ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria.

Most major domestic programs got more money this year, and they're used to reflect the priorities of the upcoming year. One good example is, the Secret Service is getting $268 extra dollars because it's a presidential election year and the agency's going to be under more demands. Another agency - the IRS - did not do as well under Republicans who control Congress. The IRS is largely flatlined in their spending, but they did get about 300 million more funding. But I can only be used to help people pay their taxes and answer questions. It can't be used for any other purpose.

SIEGEL: And the tax breaks that add up to $600 billion - who benefits from all that?

DAVIS: OK, so this pack - tax package includes about 50 tax breaks. None of them are new. They were all existing tax breaks. What this did was make them permanent. It gives some certainty for people when they're filing taxes that they don't have to wonder if Congress is going to renew them year after year.

Most of them benefit businesses, things like research and development tax credits. But people will also benefit, too, from things like - the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit have been made permanent. They predominantly help lower-income families. Congress also did something new, which is, they delayed for two years two new taxes - one on medical devices and one on high-end health insurance plans. Those taxes are supposed to help pay for President Obama's health care law, but they're really unpopular.

SIEGEL: Susan, when Congress passes this kind of legislation, it's over 2000 pages long. There's always some kind of unrelated stuff tucked inside of it, some goodies. What else is in here?

DAVIS: That's right. There's dozens of unrelated policy provisions tucked inside of it. I'll give you a sense of a handful of them. One is a visa waiver program change. It's going to make it harder for people who've traveled to places with terrorist activity to get into the U.S. They're going to have to go through an added layer of security. It ends a 40-year ban on exporting U.S. oil. It's changed - it's included in its cyber-security legislation - that says to private companies, hey, if you share with us your data on your cyber-attacks, your potential cyber-attacks, we'll give you liability protection. And they authorized a health care program for 9/11 responders for 75 years to cover the length of their lifespans.

SIEGEL: And they also target one member of President Obama's team in particular.

DAVIS: Yes. When it comes to pay raises, Congress always plays the role of Grinch. The bill extends an existing pay freeze for Vice President Joe Biden, specifically, and senior political appointees broadly. The president doesn't get an automatic pay raise, so they can't freeze it for him. But it also does extend the pay rate - they pay increases or pay freeze for pay increases for members of Congress. They've had a pay freeze since 2009, but most civil servants will see a small pay bump in 2016 thanks to a separate order from President Obama.

SIEGEL: OK, Susan. Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.