Nobody had said a word about excise taxes and rum on the floor of the House or the Senate in the two years since the provision was renewed the last time.
"I keep saying, let's take the occasion to reform it," said Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat who is Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in Congress. Pierluisi believes that too much of this money gets funneled back to rum distillers instead of being used for economic development. "It didn't happen this time around."
The list went on. One provision would renew an Agriculture Department price-support program through which the government buys cheese and butter from dairy farmers. That averted not a fiscal cliff but a so-called dairy cliff: Milk prices were set to rise sharply.
The bill also blocks a 0.5 percent cost-of-living pay increase for members of Congress, reversing parts of an executive order Obama issued last week — because Congress had yet to set the federal government's pay scale for 2013.
Another provision dealt with nuclear weapons. It would alter a law setting conditions under which the president could reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Before, this could only happen after the president certified that Russia was abiding by its nuclear arms treaty obligations.
The bill changed "that" to "whether." It was unclear on Tuesday which lawmaker had demanded this. Or, for that matter, why.
To many new House Republicans, this bill looked like the kind of over-stuffed, under-scrutinized monster they had promised to stop. In their "Pledge to America," made before the 2010 elections, the GOP had promised to post every bill online for three days before it got a vote.
On Tuesday, with only a few hours to look at the Senate bill, House legislators complained, they had not begun to understand what McConnell and Biden had concocted.