House Clears $1.7 Trillion Spending Package, Averting Shutdown
WASHINGTON — Congress on Friday cleared a roughly $1.7 trillion government funding package that would provide significant increases to national security and domestic spending and billions of dollars to aid Ukraine, sending the measure to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
The bill was the last major legislative accomplishment of the 117th Congress and set aside $858 billion in funds for the military that Republicans pushed for and more than $772 billion for the education, health and veterans programs Democrats have championed. The measure, approved just before Christmas Eve, is the second major government funding bill passed during the Biden administration and served as the final opportunity for congressional Democrats to shape the federal budget while they retain control of both chambers.
On nearly party lines, the House approved the more than 4,000-page bill by a vote of 225 to 201, with one lawmaker voting present, a day after it was shepherded through the Senate. It concluded a scramble driven by the threat of both a government shutdown and a winter storm, a desire to enact unfinished legislation before the start of divided government next month, and a surprise appearance in Washington this week by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who urged continued investment in his country’s fight against Russian invasion.
Mr. Biden, who is expected to sign the measure in the coming days, said that it “advances key priorities for our country and caps off a year of historic bipartisan progress for the American people.”
He added, “This bill is further proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people, and I’m looking forward to continued bipartisan progress in the year ahead.”
To ensure that the government does not run out of funds and shut down at the end of Friday as the legislation is processed, the House also approved a one-week stop gap bill, which Mr. Biden signed into law Friday afternoon.
“We have a big bill here because we have big needs for our country,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on Friday, noting that it was most likely her last speech on the House floor as speaker. Evoking a common Democratic slogan this Congress, she added, “this is truly a package for the people.”
What’s In the $1.7 Trillion Spending Bill
A sprawling package. Top lawmakers unveiled a roughly $1.7 trillion spending package that would keep the U.S. government open through September. Here is a look at some key provisions in the 4,155-page bill:
Military spending is the big winner. The Defense Department would see an extraordinary surge in spending when adding its regular 2023 fiscal year budget together with additional aid for Ukraine. All together, half of the funding included in the bill goes to defense, or a total of $858 billion.
Making it easier (for some) to save for retirement. The package includes new provisions that would alter how millions of Americans save for retirement, including older people who want to stash away extra money before they stop working and those struggling under the weight of student debt.
Overhauling the Electoral Count Act. The legislation includes an overhaul of the 135-year-old law. Supporters of former President Donald J. Trump sought to exploit ambiguities in the law to disrupt the traditionally ceremonial counting of the presidential electoral ballots on Jan. 6, 2021.
A ban on TikTok on government devices. TikTok will be banned from all federal government devices under the bill. The move is intended to assuage heightened privacy and national security concerns about the app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
International climate finance loses out. The bill includes just $1 billion to help poor countries cope with climate change. The figure falls far short of President Biden’s promise that the United States would spend $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to help developing nations adapt to a warming planet.
Other provisions. The bill also contains increased funding for the police, billions in aid for communities ravaged by natural disasters and a win for the lobster industry over whales. Read more about what’s in the bill, including more than $15 billion in earmarks.
The legislation guarantees that the government will remain open through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. In a concession to secure the necessary Republican support in the Senate, Democrats agreed to a higher overall increase for military spending that matched the funding outlined in the defense policy package Mr. Biden signed into law on Friday.
It unlocks key funding accounted for in bipartisan legislation approved earlier this session, including money previously set aside in the infrastructure law and the industrial policy law. The package also sets aside more than $15 billion for lawmakers to direct money to over 7,200 community projects in their districts and states, the rebranded form of earmarks.
The annual government funding legislation includes a substantial increase in spending for the Pentagon and adds more money for health, education and veterans affairs programs. By providing billions of dollars to aid the Ukrainian government and replenish U.S. weaponry already sent abroad, it also brings the American investment in the country’s war effort to more than $100 billion this year.
Lawmakers also included about $40 billion to assist federal agencies and local communities as they rebuild after droughts, wildfires and hurricanes this year.
“It’s not a question of whether it’s perfect or not — it’s a very good bill,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “It addresses some of the serious issues that this country faces and its challenges.”
The package contains a multitude of bipartisan legislative and fiscal priorities beyond the basic requirement that Congress continue to fund the government. It expands federal protections in the workplace for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, bans TikTok on federal government devices and establishes new rules that would change how millions of Americans handle their retirement savings. It also includes changes related to infant formula supply and how the Food and Drug Administration regulates and tracks cosmetics.
Under the bill, states will be allowed in April to begin reassessing which Americans are still eligible for Medicaid, after a pandemic-era policy required people in the program to be covered during the federal Covid-19 public health emergency declaration. It shores up access to health care, including proposals that guarantee children enrolled in Medicaid and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program can retain access for a full year regardless of whether their family income changes, and that establish a set funding stream for the Indian Health Service in the months ahead.
The package also includes substantial elements of a bipartisan plan to ensure the United States is better prepared for future pandemics, though lawmakers jettisoned another round of emergency aid to counter the toll of the coronavirus pandemic and a proposal to establish an independent commission to investigate how the government handled the spread of the virus.
And at the end of a Congress that began with a mob storming the Capitol during the certification of Mr. Biden’s 2020 election victory, lawmakers agreed to overhaul an archaic 135-year-old law, the Electoral Count Act, which former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters tried to exploit so he could remain in power.
Not every unfinished bipartisan priority made it into the package. In order to retain some Republican support, lawmakers dropped proposals that would have changed the tax code, including a revival of expanded monthly payments to most families with children, as well as bipartisan marijuana banking legislation, an effort to address the limit on the nation’s borrowing cap and a proposal that would have given Afghan refugees a direct path to legal immigration status.
The vote was sparsely attended, after more than half of the House submitted the pandemic-era letter that allows a colleague to vote on their behalf. Both parties used proxy voting, though hard-line Republicans made a point of railing against the practice and the distortion of its use in speeches on the House floor.
The spending package is widely seen as the last guaranteed bill to keep the government funded, as Republicans prepare to take control of the House on Jan. 3 and leverage their new majority to force the Biden administration and Democrats to accept deep spending cuts that liberals have vowed to oppose. It served as a swan song for lawmakers retiring after decades in Congress — notably, Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, from the helm of the Appropriations Committee — and champions of the spending process who are stepping away from leadership, like Ms. Pelosi and Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader.
The vote tally exposed the stark contrast between House and Senate Republicans and their opposing approaches to government spending, foreshadowing potentially bitter political battles in the new year. More than a third of Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of the bill, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader; only nine House Republicans backed the measure.
“I have concerns about the size and scope of the package,” said Representative Kay Granger of Texas, who is poised to remain the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.
“I’m disappointed that I’m unable to support this bill,” she added, citing the increase for programs unrelated to military spending.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader trying to lock up the elusive votes needed to be the House speaker over a narrow Republican majority, delivered a barbed, roughly 25-minute speech in opposition to the sprawling package. He directly criticized the retiring lawmakers who crafted the measure, pilloried the proxy voting system that lawmakers in both parties used to avoid voting in person and lamented the opaqueness of the laborious process that led to the release of the sprawling package this week.
“This monstrosity is one of the most shameful acts I have ever seen in this body,” Mr. McCarthy said, ticking through what he called the worst parts of the legislation. That list included the increase in spending for domestic programs, some of the projects requested by Democrats like Mr. Leahy and Ms. DeLauro, and what he condemned as “woke handouts.”
The speech came as several far-right lawmakers, including those who have not yet publicly committed to supporting Mr. McCarthy’s speakership, have pledged to not only oppose the spending package but the legislative priorities of any Republican senator who voted for the measure.
After Mr. McCarthy concluded to a standing ovation from some Republicans gathered in the chamber, Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a Democrat and the chairman of the Rules Committee, stood up and shot back, “after listening to that, it’s clear he doesn’t have the votes yet.”
Of the nine Republicans who broke with Mr. McCarthy and his top lieutenants to vote for the measure, two are set to return to Congress next month: Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Steve Womack of Arkansas. One Democrat, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, opposed the measure; another, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, voted present.
Aides and staff members could be seen carting papers and materials across the building in preparation for the transition of power next month and the departure of retiring lawmakers.
Even before the short debate over the legislation ended, lawmakers were lined up to vote, eager to leave for the holidays and the remainder of the year. As the vote was called, the few Democrats who remained broke into applause.
Aishvarya Kavi and Noah Weiland contributed reporting.