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House Sets Vote on $1.5 Trillion Funding Bill, Ukraine Response

The Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
The Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

The House is set to vote Wednesday on a long-delayed $1.5 trillion spending bill that would fund the U.S. government through the rest of the fiscal year and provide $13.6 billion to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lawmakers released the text of the 2,741-page measure earlier in the day before scheduled mid-day votes on the package, with the Senate looking to vote before the end of the day Friday. To pass the bill, House Democrats have set up separate votes on the defense-related and domestic portions because progressives are refusing to back the defense increase and Republican votes will be needed.

The House also plans to vote on another stopgap spending bill, continuing government funding at current levels through March 15 to give the Senate time to deal with the full-year legislation. 

The legislation would provide $730 billion for non-defense discretionary spending, a 6.7% increase and a win for Democrats, while Republicans were able to negotiate a 5.6% increase for defense spending over fiscal 2021, bringing it to $782 billion. 

The military spending is far more than progressive Democrats and the White House wanted. The annual spending for Pentagon alone comes out to $743.4 billion, $28.4 billion above the president’s request of $715 billion for the year. 

Congress added to the $10 billion the Biden administration initially requested to handle the Russia-Ukraine war. In a last minute compromise, funding for pandemic-related measures was cut from the from the $22.5 billion the administration wanted, to $15.6 billion.

“This bill overall is a big improvement from where we were a month ago,” Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said. “We’ve got parity for defense dollar wise.”

The bill also “meets the needs of Ukraine,” he said.

The $13.6 billion in emergency Ukraine-related spending would provide $6.5 billion for the Pentagon, including $3 billion to bolster U.S. troops in Europe and $3.5 billion to replace weapons given to Ukraine. 

The State department would receive $4 billion including for refugee assistance, economic assistance to the region and foreign military financing. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) would get $2.8 billion mostly for immediate humanitarian disaster assistance. Other funding is provided to enforce sanctions and increase media broadcasts into Ukraine.

The coronavirus spending bill includes $10.6 billion for a Department of Health and Human Services emergency fund, $4.5 billion for global health programs, and $500 million for humanitarian services. Those funds would be offset by using $7 billion in aid to state and local governments in the March 2021 stimulus and nearly $3 billion in unused Paycheck Protection Program small business funds.

White House budget director Shalanda Young issued a statement praising the overall agreement and said that more Covid-19 resources will be needed soon

In the broader spending plan, lawmakers were able to direct funding to specific projects in their districts the first time since a ban on such so-called earmarks went into effect 11 years ago. 

The measure also wold reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2019.

“Including the long-overdue reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in the omnibus assures that it will be enacted once again, helping to protect survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said in a statement. 

Also tucked in the giant bill is a measure to smooth the transition of contracts and loans away from the Libor benchmark which is to be phased out by 2023.

The bill revamps the EB-5 visa for wealthy investors aiming to steer funds away from real estate into projects creating more jobs. 

The bill would give the Food and Drug Administration clear powers to regulate electronic cigarettes as tobacco products.

Democrats failed in their attempt to get rid of a decades-old provision that’s regularly attached to spending legislation. Known as the Hyde amendment, it bans federal money for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. President Joe Biden had previously supported the restriction before changing his position in 2019 and calling for it to be repealed. They also failed to remove a provision barring the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana.

Congress has shifted its focus to the overdue appropriations bills now that Biden’s larger economic agenda has largely stalled. Democrats are still attempting to revive that package, which would have directed funds from tax increases toward new climate change, health and childcare initiatives while attempting to cut prescription drug costs. 

Passage of the regular spending bills would allow Democrats to increase resources to existing social programs, albeit on a smaller scale than in the Biden plan. It would also enable the president to put his stamp on agencies now running under budget instructions from the administration of former President Donald Trump. 

“We are tackling some of our nation’s biggest challenges, including making health care more affordable, confronting the climate crisis, and protecting our national security,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro said in a statement.

In addition, billions in transportation, energy and other funding from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill would also be unlocked. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $197 billion from that $550 billion law cannot be released for use over 10 years unless annual appropriations bills are enacted. 

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