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House clears omnibus package as end nears for 117th Congress

Measure heads to President Joe Biden's desk, where he's expected to sign it after Christmas

House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, opposed the bill, citing "excess" nondefense spending.
House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, opposed the bill, citing "excess" nondefense spending. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

​The House cleared a catchall omnibus bill Friday containing $1.7 trillion in fiscal 2023 annual and emergency spending and a bevy of unrelated legislation lawmakers wanted to pass before the end of the current Congress. 

The 225-201 vote was mostly along party lines as House GOP leaders urged their members to vote against the huge package over what they called a “broken process” and higher spending levels than they would have negotiated.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the spending debate should have been punted for at least 11 days, when House Republicans are set to take the majority.

“This current debate isn’t just about bad policy. It’s a slap in the face to every American that voted,” he said.

For a little extra insurance against a brief partial government shutdown, the House also cleared another one-week continuing resolution to extend the current stopgap measure — which expires at midnight Friday — through Dec. 30. That will provide plenty of time for the 4,126-page omnibus to be enrolled and sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. 

The omnibus would provide nearly $1.65 trillion in regular discretionary spending for fiscal 2023, which would fund every federal agency through Sept. 30.

Defense accounts would receive $858.4 billion, close to a 10 percent boost over the current fiscal year, while nondefense spending would rise nearly 8 percent to $787.4 billion. The package also includes $85 billion in emergency spending not counted in the discretionary topline. 

Nearly $47 billion of the supplemental funding is military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine to continue its defense against a Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a joint meeting of Congress Wednesday to thank lawmakers for the funding they’ve already provided and underscore why additional aid is needed to help them win the war.

The other roughly $38 billion in emergency spending would help communities ravaged by natural disasters, with the bulk going to help Florida and Puerto Rico recover from recent hurricanes, among other purposes. Democrats included in the disaster aid title some funding that would ordinarily be considered part of the base budget, including money for low-income heating and rental housing aid.

“These bills tackle our nation’s toughest crises — they help lower the cost of living for hardworking families and the middle class, create better-paying jobs, and protect our communities and our national security,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in floor remarks.

Outside of the spending bills, leaders tacked on dozens of unrelated measures they wanted to get through Congress before the session ends. Those measures included a bipartisan effort to increase the threshold under which lawmakers can object to the counting of electoral votes, a retirement savings package that was a priority for retiring tax writers, a public lands package, numerous health and veterans policies and much more. 

Last proxy votes

With just two days before Christmas and a winter storm snowing in large swaths of the country, Friday’s House votes were sparsely attended. The vast majority of members took advantage of the chamber’s pandemic-initiated proxy-voting system — likely for the last time since House Republicans have pledged to end that when they take the majority next Congress. 

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, while fellow progressive Democrat, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, voted “present.”

GOP leaders whipped against the omnibus because they wanted instead to pass a short-term continuing resolution into early next year, when they had hoped to negotiate a cut in overall discretionary spending. 

Nine Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the package: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming; Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington; Chris Jacobs and John Katko of New York; Fred Upton of Michigan; and Steve Womack of Arkansas.

Only Womack, a senior appropriator, and Fitzpatrick, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, are returning next Congress. The others either lost reelection or are retiring.

House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, who did not participate in the omnibus negotiations with the other top three appropriators, was among those to vote against the package.

She said it was too large, especially after Democrats increased domestic spending outside of the normal appropriations process through their pandemic aid and climate, health and tax laws. 

Rather than “reflecting the economic realities we face,” the package instead “bails out the administration for many of their self-inflicted wounds, like the border crisis and the energy crisis,” Granger said during debate. “The excess spending on nondefense programs in this bill is just too much to gain my support.”

The Senate passed the omnibus Thursday on a 68-29 vote, with 18 Republicans joining all Democrats and independents in support. 

Appropriations bills usually originate in the House, but the fiscal 2023 omnibus started in the Senate as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned his conference wouldn’t stay in town past Thursday. 

That decision gave the Senate an opportunity to adopt eight amendments to the bill, which Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said made the measure better.

Those amendments included a bipartisan measure to protect pregnant workers against workplace discrimination; $1 billion in funding for 9/11 first responders’ health costs; $6 billion to fund compensation payments for victims of state-sponsored terror; and language to authorize the administration to use the seized assets of Russian oligarchs to provide aid to the Ukrainian people.

“Usually when you have a big omnibus the amendment process makes it worse because the minority is trying to undo a lot of the things in the bill. But here we stood firm and got it done,” Schumer said at a press conference Thursday following Senate passage. 

Democrats’ dilemma 

The omnibus package fell short of the deal Democrats would have liked, especially with the nondefense spending increase coming in lower than the boost to defense accounts, as Senate Republicans demanded.

But Democrats ultimately agreed to the GOP’s terms since they knew alternative options of a yearlong continuing resolution or a shorter stopgap measure into early next year would not have resulted in a better deal for their party.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who participated in her last spending negotiation as the top House Democrat, and DeLauro painted over the incongruous increases by praising the nondefense number as the highest domestic funding level ever.

“Probably bigger than that are the [unrelated] provisions in the bill; we call it ash and trash,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference Thursday. “That does remarkable things, and we had tremendous success with that.”

Still, Democrats readily acknowledged they aren’t happy with everything in the bill. Progressives were especially frustrated at defense funding continuing to outpace domestic spending. 

“We constantly hear from the other side that we don’t have enough money to invest in the American people, and yet there always seems to be enough to invest in the next weapons system that the Pentagon doesn’t even want or need,” House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said Thursday evening as his panel prepped the bill for floor debate. “Yet here we are willing to come to the table and to try to get the best deal that we can.”

The Democratic support for the package stemmed more from other priorities they secured than the overall funding levels. 

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., touted “increasing National Labor Relations Board funding for the first time in nearly a decade, extending robust Medicaid support for American citizens in the territories, strengthening nutrition programs for low-income children, expanding affordable housing and other programs that directly support and invest in working people” among Democrats’ wins.

Aidan Quigley, Paul M. Krawzak and David Lerman contributed to this report. 

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