The Baker Hotel restoration project outlined on website

The Baker Restoration Team's website tracks the restoration project's progress.

The House today passed a $1.1 trillion spending plan to keep the federal government running through September.

The 1,665-page measure now heads to the Senate, which is also expected to approve it. Despite his complaints, Trump has promised to sign it. goes to the Senate, which is expected to pass it.

Of local importance is that the EB-5 program was extended in the spending bill. The program, which grants visa entry to the U.S. to foreigners who make a minimum $500,000 investment in domestic economic projects, was teetering on the brink of expiration the last few weeks. Most of the program's investors come from China.

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Baker team in China

Baker redevelopment team principals Laird Fairchild, left, and Chad Patton are shown at a recent  EB-5 show in China, showing the Baker Hotel project to foreign investor agents. The team is hoping the U.S. agency that oversees the EB-5 funding program will soon grant the project ‘exemplar’ status, increasing its attraction to program investors.

The Baker Hotel redevelopment project team has had its proposal for EB-5 exemplary status approval pending for more than a year. The $60 million project needs about half of that amount funded through the EB-5 program. Exemplary status is a stamp of approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the EB-5 program.

An official with the EB-5 program recently told the Index via email that there were no concerns within USCIS that the EB-5 program would be allowed to expire, that the program had been extended in the past when set to expire, and was expected to be extended this time. The USCIS recently announced the opening of a new EB-5 processing center, an indication the program was continuing to operate as normal and moving forward.

Emily Hytha, a spokesperson for Republican Congressman Michael Conaway's office, told the Index last week of efforts to extend EB-5 for now, with an eye on reforms of the controversial program that has seen abuses and fraud. Several reform proposals for the program have been put forward, including increasing the minimum investment amount and targeting more rural economic development projects.

"Mr. Conaway, as well as our staff, will continue to work with House leadership, the House Judiciary Committee, and our Senators to ensure that EB-5 remains intact," Hytha said. "As we look towards authorization of the program for FY18, there are changes that could be made to the program to reduce the misuses which take away from the rural communities this program intends to help. These exploitations often occur in larger metropolitan areas, such as New York City, and create unfair competition that hurts rural areas. However, it remains a priority for Mr. Conaway to ensure that local communities, such as Mineral Wells, have access to the EB-5 programming and the funding it can provide for projects like the Baker Hotel."

The frustration to date with the EB-5 proposal for the Baker Hotel is the time it has taken to consider the request, with little information on where the project stands, or when a decision will come.

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Baker Hotel Lobby

Pictured is the Baker Hotel lobby, as it looked in April 2014. A development team is working on putting together the financing for a $56 million renovation project. A projected performance study showed the hotel, operating as a destination resort and spa, could expect to see a net profit of $2.1 million in the first full year of operation, and $5 million in net profits after 10 years.

Conaway, a Republican whose Texas District 11 includes Palo Pinto County, said of the House-approved budget plan, “This funding bill keeps our government open and running through fiscal 2017, which is a win for our country. It increases military spending, taking a step towards rebuilding the strength and readiness of our military. Border security is also a priority in this legislation, which includes an additional $1.5 billion for critical infrastructure, innovative technology, and agents at the border."

Conaway noted the legislation does not include any funding directed to Planned Parenthood, and National Right to Life has come out in support of this bill. He said the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and staffing levels have been cut to pre-Obama levels with no new money for Obamacare. It also includes provisions to protect the Second Amendment, and freezes funding for the Internal Revenue Service below the 2008 level.

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Congressman K. Michael Conaway

Congressman Mike Conaway represents the 11th Congressional District of Texas, which includes Palo Pinto County.

“Like all legislation, this bill is not perfect," Conaway stated. "But President Trump and Speaker Ryan have delivered a starting point for fundamentally reforming the way we allocate government spending. Coupled with Republican decision makers in the Administration and Agencies in charge of implementation, we will continue to promote the conservative principles our country needs. I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law, and getting to work on the FY2018 budget and appropriations process to continue moving in the right direction.”

Trump and GOP leaders hailed the spending bill's passage as a victory, citing increases in money for the military. But Trump himself has undermined that message by complaining over Twitter about the need for Democratic votes on the bill and suggesting that a "good 'shutdown'" might be in order.

Some Republicans were not on-message either about the $1.1 trillion spending bill, the bipartisan result of weeks of negotiations in which top Democrats like Pelosi successfully blocked Trump's most controversial proposals, including a down payment on his oft-promised Mexico border wall, cuts to popular domestic programs, and new punishments for so-called sanctuary cities.

"From my point of view, we pretty well got our clock cleaned," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Democratic votes were needed to pass the measure even though Republicans control both the White House and Congress, which made Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer powerful participants in the talks. That resulted in bipartisan outcomes like $407 million to combat Western wildfires and a $2 billion increase for medical research at the National Institutes of Health. Schumer has crowed over the outcome in a series of interviews, seemingly irking the White House.

The certain outcome for the spending bill stood in contrast to the suspense shrouding the health care legislation, as the House is to leave Washington for an 11-day recess on Thursday. There was widespread expectation among lawmakers of both parties that it could come to a vote on Thursday, but if it does it will be without an updated analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office about its cost and impacts, a point Democrats complained about bitterly.

And even with Upton and Long in the "yes" column, GOP leaders continued to hunt for votes among wary moderates. More than a dozen opponents — including Kentucky's Tom Massie, New Jersey's Chris Smith and Leonard Lance and Pennsylvania's Patrick Meehan — said they were still no despite the changes.

A supporter of the legislation, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said that at the least, backing from Upton and Long "breaks the momentum of drift away from the bill" among GOP moderates.

The Associated Press now counts 19 Republicans opposed to the bill, with at least 11 others undecided, though it was not immediately clear how the addition of the Upton amendment was impacting those stances. GOP leaders can lose only 22 from their ranks and still pass the bill, which they already had to pull from the House floor once as it became clear it would fail.

That earlier collapse was a humiliating episode that raised questions about House Speaker Paul Ryan's leadership and the GOP's ability to govern at all. Ryan is eager to avoid a rerun and has said repeatedly he will not schedule a vote until passage is assured. As of late Wednesday afternoon no vote had been scheduled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Currently the general manager and editor for the Mineral Wells Index, I have worked as a writer/editor/photojournalist since the late 1980s.