Senate Democrats unveiled their 12 appropriations bills for the upcoming fiscal year Thursday, setting the stage for a clash with Republicans over defense spending, abortion policy, border security, climate change and more.
The bills, which were drafted without a bipartisan agreement on funding levels, amount to a wish list of $1.67 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2023, which begins Oct. 1. The evenly divided Senate Appropriations Committee has not planned any markups for the bills this election year because of the partisan impasse over spending levels.
Senate Democrats also disagreed with their House counterparts on how to divvy up funding between defense and nondefense programs.
Senators have proposed about $850.4 billion for defense, an 8.7 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s level. That amount is nearly double the 4.5 percent increase proposed by House Democrats. Republicans, meanwhile, are insisting on an even larger increase to keep pace with inflation and help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion.
For nondefense programs, senators have proposed about $815.6 billion, a roughly 12 percent increase. House Democrats proposed $829.1 billion, a 13.5 percent increase over this year’s level. Those figures include several adjustments and exemptions allowed under various budget laws, as well as scraping up additional discretionary funds by capping spending on mandatory programs, mostly the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The discretionary funding total in the Senate bills is about $20 billion higher than House Democrats proposed. That’s before Senate Democrats topped up their bills with $28.8 billion in funds designated as emergency spending, much of that for the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bills include $21 billion for pandemic response efforts, money the Biden administration has sought for months to guard against future variants of the coronavirus and continue the battle against the omicron variant. Republicans have questioned the need for more funding.
Additional emergency funds sprinkled throughout the bills include $2.5 billion in the Labor-HHS-Education measure for refugee and entrant assistance, including for unaccompanied children who cross the border; $2.9 billion in the Interior-Environment measure, largely for disaster relief, including at national parks; $1.4 billion in housing recovery funds for disaster victims in the Transportation-HUD bill; and an additional $950 million for fiscal 2023 global pandemic preparedness efforts in the State-Foreign Operations measure.
No GOP buy-in
Without any buy-in from Republicans, the bills have no chance of becoming law as written. But they could serve as a starting point in negotiations on compromise spending levels that may still be months away.
“It is my hope that by releasing these bills and making clear what the priorities of Senate Democrats are, we can take a step closer toward reaching a bipartisan compromise after months of stalled negotiations,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. “The stakes of inaction are too high to not complete our work.”
Republicans made clear that they would push for a rewrite to reverse or limit many of the Democratic fiscal and policy priorities.
“These drafts fail to appropriately allocate resources to our national defense, remove important legacy riders that enjoyed broad, bipartisan support just four months ago, and are filled with poison pills,” Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Appropriations Committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement.
Shelby said the bills show that negotiations “have a long way to go.” He also raised the prospect of reaching no deal and relying on a continuing resolution that simply extends current funding without allowing for new programs.
“Democrats need to get serious or, regrettably, I believe we will end up with a long-term CR,” Shelby said.
Leahy rejected that notion.
“The burden of inflation would make a long-term continuing resolution untenable with grave consequences for communities and families across the country and for our national security,” Leahy said in his statement. “It is my goal to finish our work before the end of the 117th Congress to avoid these consequences.”
Republicans argued that the measures’ combined $850.4 billion in defense-related spending, mainly for the Pentagon, is too low. It falls about $7 billion short of levels authorized in the fiscal 2023 defense policy bill authored by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Shelby said at the time was just a starting point for negotiations.
On the border, Republicans charge that the bills would reduce the migrant detention capacity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by more than 26 percent, redirect border construction funds from building a border wall to removal of existing barriers and prohibit certain ICE components from collaborating.
Republicans also oppose the bills’ abortion policies. The bills would remove the so-called Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions with limited exceptions. The measures would provide $350 million in taxpayer dollars to finance abortions and codify the repeal of the Trump-era policy that blocked foreign assistance to organizations that “promote or perform abortions,” Republicans say.
The GOP also opposes the bills’ climate policies, including taking $2 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to create what Republicans say is a “climate change slush fund” in the Homeland Security measure. The State-Foreign Operations measure includes $1.6 billion for the Green Climate Fund, which Republicans oppose.
Republicans also oppose the closing of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which the bills allow. The bills would also increase funding for the National Labor Relations Board and the IRS and clear the way for marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia, Republicans say.
Senate Democrats’ decision to release their bills without any markups amounts to a replay of last year’s process, when a partisan impasse over spending levels led to a stalemate that delayed appropriations for the current fiscal year by nearly six months. That omnibus agreement was signed into law in March, with nearly half the fiscal year already over.
Any new bipartisan deal on spending is unlikely to materialize before the November elections, leaving appropriations on the to-do list of a lame-duck Congress in November or December.