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October 21, 2017
What Catholics like and dislike in the new spending bill
US Capitol. Credit: Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.
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.- A massive spending package to be voted on by Congress has drawn applause for continuing foreign aid spending, but also concern at its proposal to keep funding Planned Parenthood.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List said the bill’s funding of Planned Parenthood was “incredibly disappointing,” and president Marjorie Dannenfelser insisted that it was “imperative” for the House to pass a “reconciliation bill that redirects the abortion giant’s funding to community health centers.”

The House has voted multiple times to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding because it is the nation’s largest performer of abortions, with more than 300,000 abortions per year according to its own reports. A measure defunding the organization for one year was included in the American Health Care Act, but that bill had failed to reach the House floor for a vote. A revised health care bill is now being considered by Congress.

On Sunday, an agreement was reached between the House and Senate on an Omnibus bill, a funding bill for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year that could be voted on this week.

Regarding foreign assistance, the Omnibus bill includes $990 million for international famine relief when famines are breaking out or are on the verge of occurring in four countries: Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.

In addition, the bill directs a $1 billion increase in funding of humanitarian aid programs “to assist in responding to the historic levels of refugees and displaced persons.”

Catholic Relief Services, the international aid arm of the U.S. bishops’ conference, praised this funding increase.

“These funds are a lifeline for over 20 million people at risk of starvation because of conflict and a prolonged drought,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy.

“Members of Congress from both parties recognized that this small part of the budget has a huge impact, not only on those in need, but also on our nation's security. This generosity is America at its best.”

The bill also maintains restrictions on international abortion funding through the Helms Amendment and bars funding of groups deemed to be supportive of forced abortions and sterilizations under the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, the House Appropriations Committee said.

Additionally, Hyde Amendment restrictions on funding of abortions in the U.S. are maintained in the bill, and programs promoting abstinence for teens receive a 50 percent increase in funding, the committee noted. The Hyde Amendment has been policy for over 40 years.

On immigration, the bill reportedly does not fund the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. “Sanctuary cities,” or those cities which do not cooperate with federal demands on immigration enforcement, would not be defunded.

Funding for programs fighting the opioid epidemic in the U.S. would also increase by $150 million. In 2015, some 33,000 died from opioid abuse and the number of overdose deaths from heroin or opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2015, as well as deaths from prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

However, President Trump has already proposed cuts to foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and increases in defense spending and immigration enforcement funding. When the president released his initial budget proposal in March, Catholic Relief Services came out against the proposed cuts to foreign aid.

The cuts would be detrimental to programs helping those in need at a time when the number of those displaced from their homes is at its highest recorded level, CRS said.