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Senate passes $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill

Sweeping bill totaling 4,155 pages, before amendments, will now be sent to the House

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., called the Democrats' border amendment a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., called the Democrats' border amendment a "wolf in sheep's clothing." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the mammoth fiscal 2023 spending package in a burst of activity on the floor Thursday after finally nailing down an amendments deal it took all day Wednesday and into the morning to hammer out.

The vote was 68-29 in support of the 4,155-page legislation. It includes the dozen annual spending bills for every federal agency, supplemental aid for the war in Ukraine and natural disaster victims, and a series of unrelated policies ranging from retirement savings incentives to driftnet fishing regulations.

“This is one of the most significant appropriations packages we have done in a very long time,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said before final passage. “The range of people it helps is large and deep.”

The package includes $858 billion in defense spending, a nearly 10 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, and $787 billion in nondefense spending, close to an 8 percent increase. It also would provide roughly $85 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine and disaster relief. 

Senate passage paves the way for the House to clear the legislation ahead of government spending running out at midnight on Friday. 

The House planned to take up the measure Friday as early as 9 a.m., Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced hours after the Senate vote. House leaders initially had hoped to clear the bill Thursday night but then determined it would not be ready for floor action in their chamber before midnight, the Maryland Democrat said.

Most of the amendment attempts were unsuccessful, but several were tacked on:

  • Bill Cassidy, R-La., amendment to attach a bipartisan bill he co-authored with Bob Casey, D-Pa., that would put in place protections for pregnant workers against workplace discrimination. The amendment was adopted on a 73-24 vote.
  • An amendment from Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to require employers to provide employees with space in the workplace and time off to pump breast milk. It was adopted 92-5.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., amendment to provide $1 billion to the World Trade Center Health Fund for first responders who got sick after the 9/11 cleanup effort and extend the program to 2027.  It was adopted on a 90-6 vote.
  • An amendment proposed by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to provide $6 billion in compensation payments to a fund for victims of state-sponsored terror, from 9/11 families to families of victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. It was adopted, 93-4.
  • An amendment from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to extend pay and benefits for Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis —who is serving time in a Japanese prison for killing two people in a 2021 car crash — was adopted by voice vote.
  • An amendment from Lee and Amy Klobuchar to modify the underlying bill’s boost to merger filing fees, which was adopted 88-8.
  • A proposal from John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., to give state and local officials more flexibility in how they spend coronavirus relief dollars. It was adopted by voice vote.
  • Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., amendment to authorize the administration to use the seized assets of Russian oligarchs to provide aid to the Ukrainian people. It was adopted by voice vote.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long it would take to package up all the amended paperwork for transmittal to the House. And even after the House clears the bill, it will take time for the measure to be enrolled for Pelosi’s signature, the last step before it’s ready to go to the White House.

So with Christmas fast approaching, the Senate passed, by voice vote, a stopgap measure that would extend current funding through Dec. 30. The latest enacted continuing resolution is set to expire at midnight Friday.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she didn’t think that would be necessary, however. And she expressed confidence the omnibus wouldn’t face any hurdles in the House.

“We’re going to pass it. It’s going to happen,” DeLauro said.

Border dispute

Thursday’s passage followed drama Wednesday night when a dispute over an amendment related to Trump-era border restrictions during the public health emergency delayed passage.

Republicans wanted a simple majority vote on Lee’s amendment to bar the Biden administration from ending the Title 42 pandemic-era asylum restriction policy, claiming it was germane to the underlying spending bill. Democrats sought a 60-vote threshold.

Democrats allowed consideration of Lee’s amendment with a simple majority threshold in exchange for a vote on an amendment proposed by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., that, in addition to blocking funds for ending Title 42, would appropriate $8.7 billion for border security and migrant care. 

Both amendments were defeated in a bit of procedural and political theater, enabling the spending bill to advance without being weighed down by controversy when it arrives in the House. The vote on Sinema-Tester was 10-87, enabling border state and other Democrats to comfortably back that proposal instead of Lee’s. The latter amendment then was rejected, 47-50.

Lee wrote on Twitter after the vote that the Sinema-Tester amendment is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing to mislead the American people to believe Dems are doing something to secure our borders.” He added that it “merely provides them cover to vote against my extension of Title 42 protections.”

Zelenskyy’s plea

The Senate’s passage of the legislation came the day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a joint meeting of Congress, thanking lawmakers for their support and pleading for more as Ukraine continues to fend off Russia’s invasion. The bill includes nearly $47 billion in new military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. 

Republicans praised the measure’s higher level of defense spending and smaller increase on the nondefense side as a win in negotiations, and highlighted the retention of the Hyde amendment, that blocks federal funding for abortion in most cases, and flat-funding the IRS. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week the package “equips our armed forces with the resources they need while cutting nondefense, nonveteran spending in real dollars.”   

Democrats also highlighted priorities in the package, including 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. 

Pelosi said Thursday the package featured “the highest nondefense, domestic number ever” though noted “we always want more.” 

The legislation also included a bevy of provisions unrelated to the annual appropriations process, including legislation banning TIkTok on government phones and horseracing industry rules. High-profile legislation clarifying the role of the vice president in counting electoral votes and raising the number of members needed to object to electoral votes was also included in the package. 

In the second year of the revived earmarking process, the legislation funded 7,234 projects accounting for $15.3 billion. Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., who is retiring, topped the list of earmarkers, securing $666 million for Alabama. 

With Senate passage complete, the measure heads over to the House, where Democrats will not need Republican support if all of their members vote in favor of the legislation. 

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is struggling to secure the votes needed to become House speaker in January, is adamantly against the omnibus. Just nine Republicans voted for the one-week CR needed last week to pave way for omnibus passage.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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