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Both parties claim wins in massive omnibus spending bill

House and Senate now race to finish before the end of the week

Lawmakers released the text of a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal 2023.
Lawmakers released the text of a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic and Republican appropriators released a sprawling, $1.7 trillion fiscal 2023 omnibus spending bill early Tuesday morning, setting up a race to the finish line for the 117th Congress by the end of this week.

Each side of the aisle claimed their own victories in the package, which spans 4,155 pages. It not only covers the dozen annual spending bills for every federal agency, plus supplemental aid for the war in Ukraine and natural disaster victims, but also an extensive set of unrelated policies such as horseracing industry rules and a TikTok ban on government-issued devices.

The final numbers include $858 billion in defense-related spending, a nearly 10 percent, or $76 billion, increase over the previous fiscal year, which Republicans celebrated. That figure includes a 4.6 percent pay raise for military servicemembers and Pentagon civilian employees.

Both parties praised the inclusion of nearly $119 billion for veterans medical care, a 22 percent increase over fiscal 2022, not counting a $5 billion infusion for the toxic exposure benefits law enacted over the summer.

And while the total nondefense figure in the bill wasn’t immediately clear, both sides took credit for wins on that front.

Senate Republicans claimed to have held nondefense funds outside of VA medical care to a below-inflation increase of 5.5 percent. But House Democrats used their own figure: a 9.3 percent, or $68 billion, increase for nondefense, including for veterans. While neither the percentage nor dollar increase matched the boost for defense, Democrats said the totals were larger than the previous year’s increase for domestic and foreign aid accounts.

The measure also would appropriate roughly $85 billion for Ukraine military and economic aid as well as money for victims of recent hurricanes that struck Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as other less recent calamities. That total figure roughly matches President Joe Biden’s supplemental requests, except lawmakers diverted $10 billion he sought for pandemic aid to beef up Ukraine and disaster relief, depriving the administration of new funds to deal with a winter COVID-19 surge.

During negotiations, the two sides tussled over the classification of veterans health care costs as Democrats aimed to make some existing funds mandatory to free up additional discretionary nondefense spending for other priorities. The GOP won that fight, although Democrats got some funds for the new toxic exposure law deemed “mandatory,” or exempt from appropriations limits.

While Democrats were not able to reclassify as much veterans health spending as they had hoped, they were able to secure a $5.1 billion advance appropriation for the Indian Health Service. Tribal organizations have pushed for this for years, seeking more long-term certainty in funding for critical health care programs for Native American communities.

The omnibus would delay an estimated more than $100 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare and other mandatory spending programs until 2025. If not for that exception, the cuts would be triggered early next year under the 2010 pay-as-you-go law, which prescribes a sequester for any “debit” balances resulting from tax cuts or spending increases that were not offset and added to the deficit.

First vote Tuesday

Democrats introduced the bill in the Senate, where a procedural vote is expected Tuesday to kickstart the floor process by moving to bring up the shell legislative vehicle.

Leaders are hoping all 100 senators will agree to speed up the normal legislative clock, because under regular order, final passage wouldn’t occur until Friday, when the current continuing resolution runs out.

Congress cleared that one-week CR last week to give appropriators more time to finish drafting the bill after they announced a framework deal Dec. 13. Appropriators worked through the weekend finalizing the text before the release in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, complained on Twitter about the delayed release of the bill and hinted he may not consent to speed up passage.

“The trolls pushing this process on the American people should be ashamed of themselves, and should not assume that every senator will agree to facilitate their efforts to ram this through,” he said.

Appropriators had planned to release the bill Monday afternoon, but language Democrats were negotiating internally regarding the FBI’s headquarters relocation project caused a delay.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., was pushing to adjust criteria that the General Services Administration released in September that would favor a Virginia site for the headquarters over two in Maryland to make it more neutral.

Hoyer’s request was not granted, but Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., helped broker compromise language ensuring that the GSA administrator will conduct “separate and detailed consultations” with representatives from Maryland and Virginia to consider their perspectives in how to weigh the criteria, a Senate Democrat aide said.

Unrelated riders

As is typically the case at the end of a congressional session, the omnibus package also carries numerous bills unrelated to federal spending that leaders didn’t have the time or support to move as stand-alone bills.

The add-ons include:

  • Legislation to overhaul the Electoral Count Act to clarify that the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes is clerical, and to raise the threshold for the number of senators and representatives needed to object to state-certified electoral ballots.
  • A recent Senate-passed bill to ban the use of the social media app TikTok on government devices.
  • Bipartisan retirement savings legislation negotiated by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
  • Various oceans-related provisions, including a measure to phase out large-scale driftnet fishing that can endanger protected marine species and legislation to improve disaster relief for fisheries.
  • A bill by Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., to modify the statutory purpose of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office satellite offices to include outreach and retention activities targeting underrepresented groups and individuals from economically, geographically and demographically diverse backgrounds.
  • Compromise language dealing with the statutory Dec. 27 deadline for Boeing Co. 737 Max aircraft safety certifications.
  • A provision sought by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose home state is the horseracing capital of America, that would upgrade Federal Trade Commission oversight of an industry regulatory authority enacted in 2020.
  • Extensions of various expiring Medicare and other health care-related provisions affecting Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and more.
  • A major public lands package.

Something for everyone

Republicans were touting wins in the measure well before its official release.

McConnell said in a floor speech Monday afternoon that the measure “equips our armed forces with the resources they need while cutting nondefense, nonveteran spending in real dollars.”

Other “wins” GOP lawmakers touted include retaining the so-called Hyde amendment language, which blocks federal funding for abortion in most cases; rejecting “radical environmental and climate policies”; and flat-funding the IRS. Republicans have repeatedly lambasted the $80 billion, 10-year increase Democrats granted the tax collection agency in this year’s partisan budget reconciliation law.

Democrats count the first funding increase for the National Labor Relations Board in over a decade, increased clean energy funding in the Energy-Water bill and more funding for affordable housing among their priorities they won in negotiations.

Schumer said in a floor speech Monday before the bill’s release that the omnibus would not be everything either side wanted, but it is better than the yearlong continuing resolution Democrats had promoted as the backup alternative to a government shutdown.

“I’m confident both sides will find things they can enthusiastically support,” he said.

House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Appropriations Committee ranking member Kay Granger of Texas, did not participate in the negotiations. A small number of House Republicans are expected to support the omnibus, despite GOP leaders expected to whip against it.

McCarthy and other House Republicans are arguing that their party will have more leverage once it controls the House. Only nine Republicans voted for the one-week CR, which paved the way for the omnibus to pass this week.

While Democrats were hoping to secure more nondefense spending in the omnibus, the party is expected to minimize defections from House progressives and have enough votes to pass the legislation. The overwhelming sentiment among Democrats is that a yearlong continuing resolution or a shorter stopgap measure into the next Congress are worse options.

Paul M. Krawzak and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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