Congressional Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday finalized a roughly $1.5 trillion measure that would provision massive funding increases for key federal health, science, education and defense programs, setting in motion a bipartisan push to stave off a looming government shutdown set to occur at the end of the week.
The release of the sweeping spending package, known in congressional parlance as an omnibus, put to end a tumultuous few months of bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill. It opened the door for the House to vote as soon as Wednesday on the measure, which lawmakers have used as the vehicle to advance roughly $14 billion in new humanitarian, military and economic assistance for Ukraine.
But the chamber’s attempts to take swift action ran into an unexpected snag, after a group of Democrats objected to the way that the bill sought to source roughly $15 billion in new coronavirus aid from an existing stimulus fund set aside for state governments.
Left-leaning progressive lawmakers, and some from Midwestern states, privately signaled to House leadership that they could object to proceeding with the debate unless the bill is revised, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to describe the discussions. The standoff left the House floor paralyzed, stuck on a procedural motion on a day when Democrats had intended to travel to Philadelphia for a party retreat.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appeared to acknowledge the disagreement in a letter to Democratic lawmakers later in the morning, noting that negotiators had held at bay additional GOP attempts to claw back aid for local governments. In doing so, she affirmed the plan to hold a vote later Wednesday, stressing the package would “strengthen our national security, bolster our economic prosperity and advance our shared democratic values.”
The total, $1.5 trillion initiative still reflected a tectonic shift in Washington, which under President Biden had been operating under a series of temporary spending patches that generally had frozen the federal government at older funding levels. It meant the White House could not achieve its grandest ambitions to boost federal programs, including those that aid low-income families and respond to public health crises, despite issuing a budget last year that called for rejuvenating these efforts.
Now, federal domestic spending is set to be funded at a level of $730 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year, an amount lawmakers described Wednesday as the largest such increase in nondefense money in four years. Agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of Education each saw significant boosts to their budgets under the bipartisan compromise.
Some of the spending increases, particularly at the Department of Transportation, are set to enable the Biden administration to carry out portions of its signature infrastructure package improving the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections. The bipartisan law, enacted last year, has suffered from early delays as a result of congressional infighting over funding.
Other boosts aim to remedy long-known deficiencies in Washington. Lawmakers included new money and authority for the Food and Drug Administration, for example, so that it could regulate electronic cigarettes. And members of Congress proposed to award $12.6 billion to the Internal Revenue Service, amounting to a $675 million increase from the prior fiscal year. That totaled the largest such raise the tax agency has seen in more than two decades, as Democrats and Republicans raced to augment its work to process millions of unresolved tax returns and other correspondence.
With it, lawmakers agreed to deliver additional sums to the Pentagon, with defense funding levels slated to rise to $742 billion under the bill. The new money arrived after Republicans fought vigorously to bolster national security in recent months, defying calls from some Democrats, who had hoped to use their narrow yet powerful majorities in Congress pursue long-sought cuts at the Pentagon.
Republicans won additional concessions, forcing Democrats to back down on trying to repeal a provision in law that bars federal funding from abortion-related services. And the GOP secured more than $23 billion for two key federal agencies that oversee immigration, Customs and Border Patrol, more than some Democrats preferred and the president initially proposed.
The amounts do not reflect additional, emergency dollars that lawmakers set aside to respond to the coronavirus and address Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. Democrats and Republicans agreed to commit $13.6 billion specifically toward the conflict, with funds dedicated to delivering economic support, addressing the needs of refugees, toughening sanctions enforcement against Russia and shoring up the defenses of Ukraine and other NATO allies.
“During this time of great uncertainty and change, we are tackling some of our nation’s biggest challenges, including making health care more affordable, confronting the climate crisis, and protecting our national security,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chair of the spending-focused House Appropriations Committee, in a statement announcing the deal.
In the Senate, the chamber’s top Republican appropriator separately heralded the compromise, pointing to the concessions the GOP had secured.
“The Omnibus rejects liberal policies and effectively addresses Republican priorities,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “The House and Senate should act quickly and send it to the President.”
The spending deal struck Wednesday marked a major accomplishment after more than a year of short-term funding fixes, the outgrowths of a series of debates that repeatedly had pushed the nation to the brink of a shutdown. Democrats and Republicans alike long had assured they were close to a longer-term funding deal, yet they found renewed urgency in recent days as the conflict in Ukraine intensified.
With a deal in hand, congressional leaders expressed optimism that they could act before the current funding expires at midnight Friday. The House on Wednesday took its first procedural steps toward a final vote later in the day, even as it readied a short-term stopgap that could give lawmakers a few more days if there are any late breakdowns in the Senate.
Some Republicans in recent weeks have threatened to slow down the debate, as they seek to challenge the Biden administration over the size of the federal deficit and the scope of the government’s rules requiring vaccines and testing. But the Senate’s top appropriator, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), expressed a measure of hope on Tuesday that lawmakers could easily dispense with “frivolous amendments” and other threats on the path to passage.
A day later, Leahy touted Democrats’ victories in securing some of the president’s top spending priorities. He pointed to a new $1 billion initiative to create a federal research agency focused on infectious diseases and cancer. And the senator heralded new money to boost the maximum size of Pell grants by $400, which could help millions of low-income students.
“This bill makes bold investments in critical areas that went underfunded or even neglected in the previous administration, including education, child care, health care, the environment, science and research, and many more,” Leahy said in a statement.
Further sweetening the deal, lawmakers for the first time in more than a decade could request earmarks for their states and districts, directing money to local infrastructure and other pet projects. In the House, for example, Democrats and Republicans alike secured roughly $4.2 billion in so-called community project funding, according to aides.
Along with the funding measure, House lawmakers on Wednesday also prepared to vote imminently on a second bill that would inflict new punishments on Russia, including a ban on its oil imports and other penalties against its exports. The measure is a pared-down version of another bipartisan bill, which initially had proposed suspending trade relations between Washington and the Kremlin until the Biden administration requested the removal of the provision.