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5,600-page government spending bill provides stimulus checks, Smithsonian museums, horse safety

Posted at 8:19 AM, Dec 22, 2020

Both houses of Congress passed a nearly 5,600-page billlate Monday night; the COVID relief package was combined with a massive $1.4 trillion government spending bill to keep federal agencies funded for the next fiscal year and set government priorities.

The relief package contains stimulus checks up to $600 for individuals, help for small businesses and for renters. But the bill overall also contains funding for two Smithsonian museums, a statement on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and extending tax breaks for NASCAR racing in addition to other government priorities.

Here are a few programs listed in the bill:

Climate: Several smaller bills having to do with climate change and renewable energy were wrapped in the government spending bill and relief package. Including: cutting the use of hydrofluorocarbons used in air conditioners and refrigerators, new research and development programs for solar, wind and energy storage, funding for energy efficiency projects, upgrades to the electric grid and commitment to researching removing carbon from the atmosphere, according to the Washington Post.

Around $10 million is being made available for the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a pilot program giving financial assistance to “rural communities to further develop renewable energy.”

Overall, Congress is sending a message that America should make renewable energies a priority.

“It is the sense of Congress that in order to reduce emissions and meet 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, or zero emission energy sources while maintaining United States leadership in science and technology, the Secretary of Energy must prioritize funding for critical fundamental research infrastructure and for basic research and development activities carried out through the Office of Science,” the bill states.

Flexible Spending Accounts: The bill will allow parents to carry over any unused childcare and healthcare funds they had in a flexible spending account into next year. Money put into an FSA typically has to be spent that year, but with daycare facilities closed due to the pandemic and many health care visits postponed, this money went unspent for some people.

Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act: The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority will be able to come up with and implement horse and racetrack safety standards at a national level, according to FOX News. This would include things like barring horses involved in racing from receiving pain killers. Measures from the authority would be overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and enforced by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

"Among the required elements of the horseracing safety program are sets of training and racing safety standards consistent with the humane treatment of horses, a system to maintain track surface quality, programs for injury and fatality analysis, investigation and disciplinary procedures, and an evaluation and accreditation program," the bill says.

NASCAR: Tax breaks for auto-racing tracks, like those used for NASCAR, were set to expire at the end of the year. The bill will extend them.

Pakistan: At least $25 million is being set aside for programs in Pakistan, broken down as “not less than $15,000,000 shall be made available for democracy programs and not less than $10,000,000 shall be made available for gender programs.” Although there are not a lot of details in the bill itself, gender equality is a component for development of Pakistan, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Smithsonian museums: The government bill sets aside funding for two new Smithsonian museums; American Women’s History Museum and National Museum of the American Latino.

“A comprehensive women’s history museum would document the full spectrum of the experiences of women in the United States, represent a diverse range of viewpoints, experiences, and backgrounds, more accurately depict the history of the United States, and add value to the Smithsonian Institution,” the bill states in establishing the new Women’s History Museum.

The National Museum of the American Latino will help visitors “to learn about Latino contributions to life, art, history, and culture in the United States.”

Tibet and the Dalai Lama: The bill sets out the objectives of the special coordinator for Tibetan issues, to “promote substantive dialogue without preconditions, between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama … that leads to a negotiated agreement on Tibet.” Also to coordinate with other countries to this end, and to promote the human rights of the Tibetan people.

It also states this representative of the U.S. should ensure that the identification and installation of any future Dalai Lama be determined by the Tibetan Buddhist faith community. There has been controversy recently because China has inserted itself in the selection process over who the next leader of the Buddhist faith should be. In 2019, China said the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must “comply with Chinese laws and regulations.”

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, issued a statement in 2011 explaining the traditions of the selection of Dalai Lamas, including reincarnation.

Many members of Congress expressed concern at the lack of time given to read the massive bill before voting on it. The text was uploaded online at 2 p.m. ET, just hours before the House and Senate were asked to be ready for a vote.