Sprawling $1.5 trillion appropriations package nears finish line

Lawmakers expect to head off a partial government shutdown

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., says the measure will direct billions of dollars to domestic priorities.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photoCQ Roll Call)
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., says the measure will direct billions of dollars to domestic priorities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photoCQ Roll Call)
Posted March 9, 2022 at 7:15am

The House is set to vote Wednesday on an omnibus spending bill that would funnel more aid to Ukraine, provide another round of COVID-19 medical assistance and fund the government through September.

The long-awaited package for the current fiscal year, which is nearly half over, would provide about $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending for all federal departments and agencies. It also resolves a monthslong partisan standoff over how to divvy up the budget pie between defense and nondefense programs.

Defense-related spending would rise by $42 billion, or 5.6 percent, over last year’s level, to $782 billion. Nondefense spending would increase by $46 billion, or 6.7 percent, to $730 billion, according to a summary from House Appropriations Committee Democrats.

Those increases come close to meeting the Republican demand for “parity” between defense and nondefense spending, which had stalled negotiations for months. In the end, Republicans won more generous boosts for the Pentagon and other national security accounts than the earlier fiscal 2022 defense authorization law envisioned. And Democrats were forced to come down off of their initial nondefense spending bills in the House, which promised 16 percent increases on average.

The package combines regular appropriations with $13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine — a priority pushed by both parties. And it includes $15.6 billion in additional funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic — paid for by tapping unspent money from previous relief laws.

A late push from governors of both parties kept the cuts to prior state and local aid limited to $7 billion, with the remaining “rescissions” spread around to various other pandemic-era programs that left some money on the table.

And the measure includes billions of dollars worth of “earmarks” for the first time in over a decade since the practice was effectively banned. House lawmakers secured over $4.2 billion in local projects benefiting their constituents, with Democrats receiving nearly 60 percent of those funds and accounting for nearly 75 percent of the individual earmarks.

Senators secured many of their own, including some big legacy projects for retiring members like top GOP appropriator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who won inclusion of earmarks such as $60 million for the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile, $32 million for dredging in Mobile Harbor and $100 million for improvements at Mobile Downtown Airport.

The 2,741-page bill, the result of weeks of hard bargaining, was unveiled in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, barely three days before current stopgap funding will expire. The House plans to take up the package Wednesday morning, before Democrats head to Philadelphia for their annual policy retreat.

Clearing the evenly divided Senate will be more difficult, because unanimous consent is required to speed up the voting. In case the Senate needs some extra time, the House also plans to vote Wednesday on a stopgap measure that would extend current funding through March 15.

Claiming victory

Both parties claimed victory in reaching a bipartisan deal that had eluded them for months. Democrats said the first full-year appropriations bill to be enacted under the Biden administration would address long-neglected domestic priorities.

“I am so proud of this government funding legislation, which delivers transformative federal investments to help lower the cost of living for working families, create American jobs, and provide a lifeline for the vulnerable,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement.

Among the Democratic priorities was a nearly 12 percent funding boost for the Department of Health and Human Services, which would get $108.3 billion. That includes a $2.25 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health. The National Cancer Institute would get a $194 million boost for the Cancer Moonshot, President Joe Biden’s initiative to pump research money into fighting cancer.

Republicans said they had succeeded in pushing Democrats to boost defense spending and eliminating new “poison pill” policy riders. In a hard-fought battle, the GOP was able to preserve the so-called Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions except in limited circumstances.

The sprawling package “rejects liberal policies and effectively addresses Republican priorities,” Shelby said in a statement.

Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request, submitted nearly a year ago, called for a 16.5 percent boost for nondefense discretionary spending over the previous year’s level, while offering a defense increase of less than 2 percent. That disparity angered Republicans, who pressed for months for equal increases.

Republicans also took credit for boosting the amount of aid going to Ukraine as it fights for survival against a Russian invasion, after the Biden administration had proposed $10 billion. And they successfully fought to offset the cost of additional funding for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

The new pandemic money would include $10.6 billion to finance vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, along with developing medical countermeasures against new variants. It would also funnel $4.45 billion to help other countries combat the pandemic with vaccines and therapeutics.

The $13.6 billion Ukraine package would provide $3 billion in weapons transfers to Ukraine and NATO allies and $3 billion for U.S. forces in the region. It would also offer more than $4 billion in humanitarian assistance and nearly $1.8 billion in economic aid to Ukraine and its neighbors.

'Ash and trash'

In the final hours of negotiations, lawmakers also wrapped into the must-pass package several unrelated measures in an expansive section at the back of the bill, collectively known in appropriations parlance as “ash and trash.” Expiring authorizations for the National Flood Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a livestock reporting program and more would be renewed.

An area of federal law enabling synthetic nicotine manufacturers to escape regulation would be closed. Higher Medicaid reimbursements for U.S. territories would be extended. New language intended to boost the Federal Trade Commission's ability to crack down on attempts to defraud seniors is included. The annual intelligence authorization act would go along for the ride, as would legislation to increase reporting of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

The measure would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a lapsed 1994 law that authorizes funding for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Reauthorization had been held up in a dispute over a so-called “boyfriend loophole” that allows unmarried partners to keep their guns even if they’re convicted of violence against someone they date. The bipartisan compromise would preserve that gun right.

The initial legislation serving as the vehicle for the omnibus — a bill to boost democracy and combat corruption in Haiti — would be preserved, while new provisions aimed at backing counterterrorism efforts in Africa would be added.

A separate section intended to promote the U.S.-Israel relationship and back regional peace initiatives such as the Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump administration is also included. Those provisions complement this fiscal year’s typical installment of military and economic aid to Middle Eastern nations, with an extra $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system tacked on — after stand-alone legislation to provide Iron Dome funds stalled in the Senate.

But a push to include a new round of federal aid for pandemic-battered restaurants fell flat. A bipartisan group of senators have been pushing for more than $40 billion for restaurants and bars after a previous round of aid only reached about a third of those who had applied.

“We are beyond disappointed that this massive government funding proposal ignores the needs of 177,300 neighborhood restaurants and bars impacted by the pandemic,” Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said in a statement.

Also omitted from the package was an effort to extend popular tax breaks.

While there’s broad bipartisan support for renewing full expensing of corporate research and development costs, which lapsed at the start of the year, some Democrats did not want to move business tax breaks before restoring individual tax provisions, like the more generous child tax credit paid in monthly installments, which expired this year.

Under a rule approved early Wednesday morning, the House plans to take up the omnibus measure in two pieces. The Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science and Homeland Security spending bills plus the defense portions of the Ukraine supplemental, intelligence authorization and the Israel relations measure would be voted on separately from the rest of the package.

That move is designed to meet the political objectives of lawmakers across the ideological spectrum, but the two pieces will be combined before the package is sent over to the Senate.

And since the Haiti bill had already passed both chambers with amendments, when the combined bill reaches the Senate it won't require a separate cloture vote to proceed with floor debate in that chamber. That should truncate the process somewhat, though the four-day continuing resolution is considered insurance should debate bleed into the weekend or even early next week.

Peter Cohn and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.