House Passes Spending Package, Senate Considers Opioid Epidemic
March 22, 2018
House passes $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday; GOP senators push to bolster the mandatory minimum sentencing for trafficking synthetic opioid; U.S. weekly jobless claims total 229,000 compared to 225,000 claims expected.
- House passes $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday. Lawmakers in the House approved a $1.3 trillion spending bill in a 256-167 vote on Thursday, with majorities in the Democratic and Republican party backing the measure. However, many conservative Republicans did defect over the measure’s massive price tag and the lack of transparency in the bill-writing process. The bill will now be sent to the Senate, and if approved, would prevent a shutdown and deliver the largest federal spending increase in years. Conservative unrest came close to preventing the bill from passing during a procedural vote on Thursday on the rule governing debate. An unusual high number of Republicans – 25 – voted against their own party’s rule in defiance of President Trump, who had publicly backed the package. The Senate is expected to begin work on the bill right before a midnight Friday deadline for preventing a shutdown. The spending package includes $695 billion in defense funding and $591 billion in non-defense funding, including a combined $78 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending that do not factor into legal budget caps. Last month, Congress agreed to increase the 2018 spending caps by $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for non-defense. It set similar increases for 2019. [The Hill]
- GOP senators push to bolster the mandatory minimum sentencing for trafficking synthetic opioid. A group of Republicans wants to increase mandatory minimum sentencing for trafficking fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, a move that comes as President Trump pushes for harsher punishments for drug traffickers. Fentanyl is “as much a weapon of mass destruction as it is a drug,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) at a Thursday press conference. Federal mandatory minimums for fentanyl kick in after trafficking 40 grams or more. The bill, which will be introduced on Thursday, would reduce the amount of fentanyl required for mandatory minimum sentences to apply. This is aimed at taking into account the synthetic drug’s potency – up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Mandatory minimums require judges to sentence someone convicted of a drug crime to a minimum length of time. They have received push back from critical justice advocates who believe the laws are outdated. Lawmakers and the administration are working to combat the opioid epidemic. Overdoses from the synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl, more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest statistics. [The Hill]
Economic Indicators & News
- U.S. weekly jobless claims total 229,000 compared to 225,000 claims expected. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly increased last week. However, the increase was marginal, which suggests that strong job growth in March should underpin consumer spending. According to the Labor Department on Thursday, initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 229,000 for the week ended March 17. Data for the prior week was unrevised. Claims decreased to 210,000 during the week ended Feb. 24, which was the lowest level since December 1969. Economists polled by Reuters had expected claims to decreased to 225,000 in he latest week. Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold for 159 straight weeks, a threshold which is associated with a strong labor market. The 159 week stretch is the longest once since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. The labor market is now considered to be near or at full employment. The jobless rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, not too far from the Federal Reserve’s forecast of 3.8 percent by the end of 2018. The U.S. central bank increased interest rates on Wednesday and forecast at least two more interest rate hikes for 2018, saying that it expects “labor market conditions will remain strong.” [CNBC]