WASHINGTON – Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican, was the sole congressman from the Philadelphia area to oppose a $1.1 trillion spending package that cleared the House and Senate Friday, warning that a key policy rider within it could hurt the region's oil refineries, which employ thousands in the area.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R. Pa.), criticizing the spending included in the measure, was the area's only senator to vote against the bill, which won broad, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and will fund the government for the next fiscal year.
Leaders in both chambers hailed the plan as a sweeping compromise that will avert the fiscal stand-offs of years past.
Meehan said there was much to like in the bill – a year-end smorgasbord which lumped together a vast array of Republican and Democratic initiatives, and offered something to seemingly please and anger everyone – but that he could not back it because of its plan to end a ban on exporting crude oil.
The policy change, championed by most Republicans, could boost the price for crude oil – adding to the expenses for local refineries that turn the crude into gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. The refineries have warned that the change could make them less competitive.
"I will not gamble with refinery jobs and the families and communities they support," Meehan said in a news release after the vote. "Generations of middle class families have depended on those refineries to help them put food on the table and their kids through school. Those jobs have been in jeopardy before, and they shouldn't be threatened again because of a policy change in Washington."
Meehan played a key role in a 2011 effort to preserve the facilities.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions and Monroe Energy in Trainer employ around 3,000 people, including contractors, according to Meehan's office. PBF Energy, which has refineries in Paulsboro, N.J. and Delaware City, Del., accounts for about 1,000 more jobs. Delaware Democratic Rep. John Carney also opposed the measure, citing the impact on refineries in his state.
Republican leaders argued that allowing exports will boost the domestic oil industry, creating a ripple effect through the economy. Several studies have said that consumer gas prices – tied to the international market – are likely to fall slightly as a result of the change.
Toomey, too, listed a number of provisions he supported – including suspending a tax on medical device makers and business tax breaks he backed – but said "on balance" he could not support the measure, listing off many more examples of what he sees as wasteful or irresponsible spending, including $65 million for salmon restoration and tax credits for wind and solar projects (which Democrats won in exchange for lifting the oil export ban.)
"It is outrageous that Congress pushed through a bloated, $1.1 trillion spending bill that was crafted behind closed doors, is filled with special interest giveaways, and will continue Washington's addiction to overspending and fiscal irresponsibility," Toomey said in a news release.
He and Meehan were the exceptions, though. Every other lawmaker from the Philadelphia area (including suburbs in Pennsylvania and South Jersey), supported the measure.
Among many other things, the package included $50 million to fund security at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next year (and a similar amount for the GOP convention in Cleveland), $25 million to help railroads install Positive Train Control, the safety system that could have averted the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May, and a two-year delay of the "Cadillac tax" on expensive health-insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act. There are tax credits to help the poor and those with mortgage debt, wording to protect South Jersey's joint McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst military base and money to upgrade the radar on F-16s, including those stationed in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. -- a provision highlighted by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.).
It was all piled together in a 2,009-page all-or-nothing package approved as Congress left Washington for the rest of the year.
Rep. Charlie Dent, an Allentown Republican, hailed the bill for many of its aid to 9/11 first responders and delay of two Affordable Care Act taxes, and for ending, until September, the threat of a government shutdown.
"Congress provided much needed stability for the American people," Dent said.
He said ending the oil export ban would create an estimated 13,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and many more nationwide.
"This is an important victory for our economy that will allow U.S. businesses to compete within the global marketplace and support our allies by providing them with a secure and reliable energy source," Dent said in a news release.
The bill passed the House 316-113 with bipartisan support. It cleared the Senate 65-33 and is expected to be signed by President Obama.
National Democrats took aim at Meehan for opposing the bill – citing the aid for 9/11 responders (though Meehan, in his release, said he supports that provision).
"Though Congressman Meehan purports to be practical and responsible, his vote today shows his close alignment with the reckless factions of the Republican Party," said Jermaine House, a spokesman for Democrats' national campaign arm. The party has made Meehan a top target in 2016.