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Lawmakers Discover What's In Spending Deal

The proposed budget would take gray wolves in the northwest off the list of endangered species.
The proposed budget would take gray wolves in the northwest off the list of endangered species.

The deal congressional leaders struck last Friday funding the federal government for 24 weeks and cutting $38 billion in spending is being voted on Thursday in the House and possibly the Senate.

While the measure does chop spending, a few other things in it that have little to do with spending also get chopped, as lawmakers have been discovering.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) says he was "stunned" to find that a provision he managed to include in the new health care law last year — an option providing employer-paid vouchers to people who can't afford their workplace insurance and who don't qualify for subsidies — is repealed in the budget deal.

Wyden says eliminating the vouchers saves no federal money, and he suspects an industry group lobbied for the repeal.

"It's clear that the Business Roundtable pulled out all the stops to kill this," he says, meaning an association of top executives from some of the nation's largest corporations.

Business Roundtable spokeswoman Johanna Schneider says the group did not work to get the voucher repeal included in the spending bill.

"We do not support the [vouchers], and the primary reason is we genuinely believe that it would change the risk pools for those covered employees," she says. "But that does not equal, nor did it equal, that we lobbied to have it removed."

Wyden says he may end up voting against the budget deal because he "can't conceive of voting for this unless I'm told by the White House and congressional leadership that there's going to be corrective action."

It's an opportunity to fix a problem.

In another part of the budget measure, gray wolves in the Rocky Mountain northwest, which were reintroduced there in the mid-1990s, are taken off the list of endangered species.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) calls the measure "an opportunity to fix a problem."

He acknowledges having pushed to have gray wolves removed from the protected list.

"We're dealing with a species that is fully recovered," he says. "We're dealing with a species that right now is having some very dramatic impacts on domestic livestock and wildlife. They need to be managed."

But Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, says "managing" means killing gray wolves, and he doesn't believe Congress should be making that call.

"This is the first time in all of the history of the Endangered Species Act that Congress has ever legislated to remove protection of a species," he says. "We are, of course, extremely worried that this could represent some kind of a precedent, and the Endangered Species Act could face further onslaught in coming months and coming years."

So Congress will be voting Thursday on the fate of more than 1,600 gray wolves in the northwest — as well as the future of health insurance vouchers for possibly hundreds of thousands of workers — in a bill aimed at keeping the government open and cutting the deficit.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.