Senate Democrats unveil remaining fiscal 2022 spending bills

Domestic and foreign aid programs would increase by more than 13 percent, a figure Republicans say is too high

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., left, and ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., talk before a Senate Appropriations Committee markup in August.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., left, and ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., talk before a Senate Appropriations Committee markup in August. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 18, 2021 at 4:43pm

Senate Democrats released nine remaining appropriations bills Monday in an effort to jump-start bipartisan talks, though the funding levels don’t dedicate as much to defense as the GOP would like and would eliminate a ban on federal funding for abortion.

Within a discretionary spending ceiling of roughly $1.5 trillion, Senate Democrats would set aside $778 billion for the Pentagon and other security-related agencies — a 5 percent boost over fiscal 2021 that would match bipartisan defense authorization bills in both chambers.

Spending on domestic and foreign aid programs would increase by more than 13 percent, a figure that Republicans reject as too high given the much slimmer boosts for defense-related programs.

Those numbers mark a shift from Democrats' positions earlier this year. The Biden administration's budget request proposed a 1.6 percent increase for defense and 16.5 percent more for nondefense programs. House Democrats in their initial fiscal 2022 spending bills largely adhered to those numbers though put in about $2 billion extra for defense.

Senate Democrats view their proposed funding levels as an effort to “move the ball forward" in talks with Republicans, according to a committee aide who wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, have called for equal increases between defense and nondefense funding.

The measures released on Monday include “significant increases” in funding for child care grants; Head Start; the maximum Pell Grant for lower-income college students; programs to address violence against women; the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies, devices and medicines and for police-related programs that will be come with "reforms," according to the committee aide. Foreign Operations funding would get the first significant increase in about a decade, the aide said.

Republicans say the nondefense increases are closer to 14 percent over last year after factoring in cuts to mandatory programs to offset higher discretionary spending, with the result exceeding the Democrats' overall $1.5 trillion discretionary ceiling in their fiscal 2022 budget by nearly $10 billion.

Shelby, R-Ala., called Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy's decision to unveil the measures "a significant step in the wrong direction." The Democrats' bills "fail to give equal consideration to our nation's defense" and are "filled with poison pills and problematic authorizing provisions," Shelby said in a statement.

Committee markups of the nine bills aren't expected. The panel previously approved its versions of the Agriculture, Military Construction-VA and Energy-Water bills with bipartisan support.

Policy riders

Senate Democrats would remove longstanding provisions from several of the bills that prevent federal funding for abortion services with limited exceptions. That includes removal of the so-called Hyde amendment in the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which affects Medicaid and other health care programs, the "Mexico City policy" ban on funding for overseas aid groups in the State-Foreign Operations measure and more.

Democrats would move the $1.9 billion unobligated balance for Trump administration-era border wall construction to other areas of the Homeland Security funding bill, including border security information technology and resources for Customs and Border Protection. They'd also allow the federal government to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba and transfer or release individuals detained there.

The ongoing disagreements between Shelby and Leahy, D-Vt., would typically be worked out with their House counterparts during the conference process. But that isn’t expected to get underway until after congressional leaders and the Biden administration negotiate final spending levels for the appropriations bills.

Those final numbers need to be reached by the end of October or early November at the latest, according to the committee aide, if appropriators are going to reach agreement on all dozen fiscal 2022 spending bills before stopgap funding expires on Dec. 3.

Leahy’s decision to release draft bills is intended to move Congress one step closer to reaching that agreement, though timing could be tough with Democrats focused on reaching final agreement on a multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package.

Leahy releasing the spending bill text is similar to what Shelby did last year when all markups were put on hold over a disagreement about whether Democrats should be able to offer amendments related to COVID-19 funding and social justice issues.

Shelby, then chairman of the panel, released GOP-backed bills on Nov. 10 without the broad support of Democratic members.

Last year, the panel hadn’t debated any of the bills. When the committee marked up three fiscal 2022 bills in August, Leahy said he hoped to mark up additional measures in September, though opted not to amid Republicans calling for parity between increases to defense and nondefense funding.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.