Spending Bill Is Packed With Perks | Wall Street Journal


WASHINGTON—Wall Street firms, Las Vegas casinos, defense contractors and other major U.S. corporations won special provisions tucked inside a 1,600-page spending bill being considered by Congress.

The bill, which funds more than $1 trillion in government operations through Sept. 30, sparked a lobbying frenzy from individual companies, industries and other special interests.

Winners include banks, such as Citigroup Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which scored a provision rolling back new derivatives regulations; hotels, rental car firms and Las Vegas casinos, which hit the jackpot with a provision that renews a U.S. marketing program to entice foreigners to vacation in the U.S.; and a tiny uranium enrichment firm that won $97 million in federal funds.

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) secured a provision that would suspend enforcement of rules designed to prevent truck-driver fatigue. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, touted the inclusion of $120 million he hopes will double capacity on Chicago’s most-used subway lines. Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Georgia) secured language designed to ensure that a project to expand the Savannah Harbor would go forward.

Many of the provisions were added to the spending bill by congressional leaders, as they have done in years past, in an effort to secure as much possible support, especially given Congress’s tortured recent history in passing spending legislation.

This time, however, some of the extraneous provisions are drawing fire from both Democrats and Republicans alike. Conservatives say the provisions are freebies to special interests. Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), contend the derivatives measure is a giveaway to Wall Street banks.

House leaders hope to vote on the legislation Thursday. The Senate is looking to vote on the spending package later this week.

For Washington lobbyists, the bill represents one of the few chances to influence legislation, “so it becomes a feeding frenzy to make sure your client’s provision is inserted in the only train leaving the Capitol Hill station,” says Steve Ellis, a vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan organization that tracks spending provisions.

Defense contractors were big winners, scoring a total of $94 billion for new equipment and upgrades, and accounting for about 9% of the total bill. Lockheed Martin Corp. won a victory when appropriators agreed to fund 38 F-35 joint-strike fighters. Boeing Co. benefited from a decision to fund 15 Growler aircraft that also helped keep open a factory in St. Louis.

One late addition causing tension is a provision to scale back derivatives regulation in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-services law. Under the law, big firms are required to spin off certain derivatives trading into affiliates that don’t enjoy access to federal safety nets.

Banks including Citigroup and J.P. Morgan have been working for years to eliminate or roll back the provision, joined by regional banks such as PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and SunTrust Banks Inc.

At the behest of financial services lobbyists, House lawmakers added language to the bill that would allow banks to keep almost all the banished swaps. That has drawn the ire of some Democrats.

Energy lobbyists scored several wins in the legislation. Western energy firms added a measure that would block the Interior Department from listing the sage grouse, a chicken-like bird whose habitat spans several Western states, as an endangered species. The coal lobby won a provision that would hinder the White House’s efforts to limit U.S. investments in overseas coal-fired power plants.

Hotels, rental cars companies, theme parks and casinos supported a provision to renew an expiring program promoting tourism to the U.S. The marketing program, called Brand USA, is funded jointly from fees charged to international travelers coming to the country and matching funds from the U.S. tourism industry.

The legislation had bipartisan backing in the House and Senate, and passed the House this summer, but didn’t come to a Senate vote.

The U.S. Travel Association, which represents Marriott International, Avis Budget Group, Disney Destinations LLC and others, says the average foreigner spends $5,400 during U.S. travel.

—Victoria McGrane and Amy Harder contributed to this article.

via Spending Bill Is Packed With Perks | Wall Street Journal.