$3.5T spending package includes big money for ‘tree equity,’ bias training and more

Nearly $79 billion for the IRS, $12 billion for electric cars, $3 billion for “tree equity,” $1 billion to turn government facilities into “high-performance green buildings,” and new funding for gender identity issues and bias training — Fox News can now reveal these and other controversial spending items in Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package, following the House Budget Committee’s release and approval of the full draft legislation on Saturday.

CONTROVERSIAL SPENDING 

Among the most contentious provisions, the bill gives a substantial funding boost to the Internal Revenue Service, which stands to gain an additional $78.94 billion over the next 10 years. The money would help the IRS strengthen tax enforcement activities, expand audits and modernize its technology. An additional $410 million would go to IRS oversight.

Democrats also are putting equity at the center of the bill. The Agriculture Committee has earmarked $3 billion for a tree-planting program “with a priority for projects that increase tree equity.” The legislation dishes out another $4 billion for “neighborhood access and equity grants.” Meanwhile, its “electric vehicle charging equity program” comes with a $1 billion price tag. 

The bill generally doesn’t elaborate on the meaning of equity in this context, though American Forests defines “tree equity,” for example, as a tree-planting program that “identifies the cities that can gain the most significant health, economic and climate benefits by increasing tree canopy in places of high need.”

The legislation would add billions of dollars in climate change funding, starting with the “Civilian Climate Corps,” which would get at least $7.5 billion across multiple committee budgets. The organization, which President Biden has placed at the top of his climate wishlist, would employ thousands of young people to carry out conservation and climate change-related projects on public lands.

There’s also $5 billion for environmental and “climate justice” block grants given to disadvantaged communities, $1.4 billion in climate change research and $300 million for the federal government to conduct more efficient and effective environmental reviews by hiring more people and purchasing new equipment, among other measures.

The federal government itself stands to benefit significantly from the climate initiatives. Democrats have pushed for $12 billion to buy electric cars and related infrastructure for the federal fleet, at least $7 billion of which would go toward upgrading the U.S. Postal Service to electric vehicles. The General Services Administration, the agency supporting federal government activities, would get $1 billion to convert its facilities into “high-performance green buildings” over the next 10 years.

BIDEN WON’T TAKE SIDES AS DEMS TRY TO REACH DEAL OVER SPENDING

Unions are also poised for rewards in the bill. One eyebrow-raising provision would give taxpayers a deduction of up to $250 for dues paid to a labor organization, a move likely to boost and maintain union membership throughout the country. Democrats also slipped in a provision that would give up to $5 million to implement electronic voting systems for union elections.

Race and gender-based spending in the bill carries a smaller price tag, but is more likely to receive pushback from moderate Democrats and Republicans. The bill would give $25 million to nonprofit organizations to develop “anti-discrimination and bias training” for the health care sector, and another $15 million for national resource centers “focused on providing services for older individuals who are underserved due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” It is not clear where the centers would be located or how many people they would serve.

Finally, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are promising another $2.8 billion to increase the capacity of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to efficiently adjudicate applications and to reduce case-processing backlogs. Those applications are expected to be created by another part of the bill, which would give lawful permanent residence to certain entrants into the United States.

HIDDEN ITEMS

While Democrats have heralded major parts of the legislation, they have neglected to mention some spending items during their sales pitches. Instead, House Democrats quietly added the provisions during the ongoing reconciliation process, sometimes in a particularly convoluted way.

Take, for example, the $198 million in funding for “school leadership programs,” a provision contained in section 20,008 of the bill. Rather than describing those programs, the legislation referenced another bill, which explained that the money would be dedicated to school principals for development and training programs.

Drafting the bill in such a fashion generally makes it more difficult for people to understand where the money is really going.

NEXT STEPS

The bill cleared a procedural hurdle this past Saturday, when the Senate Budget Committee passed it on a 20-17 vote. The package is expected to hit the House floor this week. 

Still, plans are in flux. Republicans have mounted strong opposition to the bill and moderate Democrats have continued to express reluctance to approve trillions of dollars in new spending at the same time as a landmark physical infrastructure bill that recently passed in the Senate with bipartisan support. 

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Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have been the most vocal in their opposition, and even they have been negotiating separately. Manchin told Politico on Thursday, “What’s the need? There is no timeline. I want to understand it,” while representatives for Sinema told the same outlet, “Kyrsten recognizes there’s a timeline, there’s got to be a process,” but said she was consulting with colleagues about the key provisions and cost of the bill.

Republicans have been less forgiving. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., told CQ on Saturday that “I could cry looking at this thing… it’s just so different from what our forefathers envisioned when they founded this country.” Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Monday morning he didn’t want the infrastructure bill to be linked “in any way, shape or form to reconciliation.”

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The Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey revealed to Fox News on Sunday that while the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were optimistic about ongoing negotiations, President Biden “has been making clear that [there is] some flexibility on the overall number,” and added, “There are still policy divides that are not resolved.”

The cost of the bill originally was expected to be $3.5 trillion, but the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget wrote in July that the true cost was around $5.5 trillion, and The New York Times reported Monday morning that the current bill is “likely to cost well over $3.5 trillion.”

Figuring out the true cost could take some time. The bill, formally known as the Build Back Better Act, weighs in at 2,465 pages and 444,311 words. That’s longer than Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.”

https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/spending-package-reconciliation-tree-equity-bias-training