What’s In (and Not In) the $1.7 Trillion Spending Bill
WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars in emergency aid to war-torn Ukraine and communities ravaged by natural disasters. A bipartisan proposal to overhaul the archaic law at the heart of former President Donald J. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. And a divisive oceanic policy that will change federal protections for whales in an effort to protect the lobster industry in Maine.
In compiling the roughly $1.7 trillion catchall spending package that will keep the government open through September, lawmakers inserted several new funding and legislative proposals to ensure their priorities and policies become law before the end of the year.
It includes funding that will guarantee the enactment of policies first authorized in bipartisan legislation approved earlier in this Congress, including money for innovation hubs established in the semiconductor manufacturing law and projects in the infrastructure law. The package also includes a round of earmarks, rebranded as community project funding, that allow lawmakers to redirect funds to specific projects in their states and districts.
Here is a look at some of the provisions that would go into effect if enacted.
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 funds being allocated to help respond to the war in Ukraine.
All together, half of the $1.7 trillion in funding included in the package goes to defense, or a total of $858 billion. It comes after lawmakers bucked a request from President Biden and approved a substantial increase in the annual defense policy bill passed this month.
The 2023 budget just for the Defense Department would total $797.6 billion in discretionary spending — a 10 percent increase over last year’s budget — representing an extra $69.3 billion in funds for the Pentagon, which is $36.1 billion above the president’s budget request.
Sprinkled throughout the spending bill are hundreds of high-ticket add-ons that Congress wants to make to the president’s original Defense Department budget, such as an additional $17.2 billionfor procurement that the Pentagon can largely distribute to military contractors to buy new ships, airplanes, missile systems and other equipment. The overall Pentagon procurement budget with these additional funds would be $162 billion.
One of the biggest chunks of that extra money is for shipbuilding — an extra $4 billion that brings the Navy’s overall shipbuilding budget to $31.96 billion. That will allow it to buy 11 new ships, including three guided missile destroyers and two attack submarines.
But that is just the start. There is $8.5 billion to buy 61 F-35 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin and another $2.5 billion to buy 15 of Boeing’s new aerial refueling planes known as KC-46tankers.
There is also an extra $27.9 billion to help cover Defense Department costs associated with the war in Ukraine, as part of an emergency aid package to the country. That includes an extra $11.88 billion to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine — money that again will largely be used to purchase products from military contractors. That supplemental appropriation also includes $9 billion to assist Ukraine with training, equipment and weapons, as well as an extra $6.98 billion to cover U.S. military operations in Europe.
— Eric Lipton and John Ismay
Making it easier (for some) to save for retirement.
The package also includes a collection of new rules aimed at helping Americans save for retirement. The bill would require employers to automatically enroll eligible employees in their 401(k) and 403(b) plans, setting aside at least 3 percent, but no more than 10 percent, of their paychecks. Contributions would be increased by one percentage point each year thereafter, until it reaches at least 10 percent (but not more than 15 percent). But this applies only to new employer-provided plans that are started in 2025 and later — existing plans are exempt.
Another provision would help lower- and middle-income earners saving for retirement by making changes to an existing tax credit, called the saver’s credit, now available only to those who owe taxes. In its new form, it would amount toa matching contribution, from the federal government, deposited into taxpayers’ retirement accounts.
People struggling with student debt would also receive a new perk: Employees making student debt payments would qualify for employer matching contributions in their workplace retirement plan, even if they were not making plan contributions of their own.
What to Know About Congress’s Lame-Duck Session
A productive stretch. Lawmakers are using the period between Election Day and the end of the two-year congressional term — known as a lame-duck session — to try to approve a rush of major legislation. Here’s a look at what the departing Congress is doing in its final weeks:
Spending bill. Lawmakers unveiled a sprawling spending package that would keep the government open through September and significantly increase federal spending. It also includes more aid to Ukraine, changes to the Electoral Count Act and a ban on TikTok on government devices.
Same-sex marriage bill. With bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act, a watershed bill that enshrines the marriage rights of same-sex couples in federal law and reflects a broad shift in public opinion on the issue.
Defense bill. Defying President Biden’s objections, lawmakers approved an $858 billion military policy bill that would rescind the Pentagon’s mandate that troops receive the coronavirus vaccine. The legislation also increases the Pentagon’s budget by $45 billion over Mr. Biden’s request.
Puerto Rico statehood. For the first time, the House passed a bill backing a binding process that could pave the way for Puerto Rico to become the nation’s 51st state or an independent country. But the measure, which has the support of the White House, is unlikely to pass the Senate.
Workers ages 60 to 63 would also be permitted to set aside extra money for retirement. And, starting next year, retirees would be permitted to delay taking minimum withdrawals from their retirement accounts until age 73, before increasing to age 75 in 2033.
— Tara Siegel Bernard
Overhauling the Electoral Count Act.
The legislation includes an overhaul of the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act that was a year in the making after supporters of Mr. Trump sought to exploit ambiguities in the law to disrupt the traditionally ceremonial counting of the presidential electoral ballots on Jan. 6, 2021.
Under the measure drafted by a bipartisan coalition led by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, the role of the vice president is defined as strictly ceremonial after Mr. Trump sought unsuccessfully to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to reject electoral votes won by Mr. Biden. The measure also raises the threshold for lodging an objection to a state’s electoral votes from a single member of the House and the Senate to 20 percent of both chambers.
The bill is a rare one that was sponsored by both Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader.
“Our bipartisan group worked tirelessly to draft this legislation that fixes the flaws of the archaic and ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887 and establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for president and vice president,” Ms. Collins and Mr. Manchin said in a joint statement on Tuesday after the legislation was added to the year-end spending bill.
— Carl Hulse
Increasing funding for the police.
The bill includes more than $770 million for federal law enforcement grants issued to local governments, an increase of more than $96 million. Another $324 million can be used to hire 1,800 law enforcement officers across the nation.
Mr. Biden has argued that investing in police departments is crucial to reforming them. As a result, Congress also increased funding for Justice Department grants focused on community policing and de-escalation strategies to $231 million, a 15 percent jump.
The spending package, however, did not include legislation that would have ended longstanding racial disparities in federal prison sentences for drug possession, which the House passed overwhelmingly last year. That could fuel criticism from criminal justice advocates, who have increasingly accused Mr. Biden of neglecting promises to reform the police and criminal justice systems.
— Zolan Kanno-Youngs
The lobster industry wins over whales.
One nonspending provision in the bill, inserted by a bipartisan group of Maine lawmakers, would block stricter federal rules aimed at preventing North Atlantic right whales from getting entangled in the fishing lines used to catch lobsters.
In a statement, the Maine delegation, including Ms. Collins, the delegation’s lone Republican, wrote that the provision protects lobster fishers who have invested in “countless precautionary measures” to protect right whales, including removing more than 30,000 miles of line from the water and switching to “weaker” ropes.
However, environmentalists contend that blocking the more aggressive rules would almost certainly push the whales, which are one of the world’s most endangered marine species, to extinction.
Currently, scientists estimate that fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales still live, and fewer than 100 of them are breeding females. In order for the right whale population to avoid extinction, the average number of whales killed by human-related activity needs to be fewer than one whale per year, according to a study from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
When whales get entangled, the ropes can get tightly wrapped around different body parts, including their mouths, preventing them from feeding or reaching the surface to breathe, said Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist who studies right whales at the New England Aquarium.
A district judge ordered the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in September to complete a new rule after a coalition of environmental groups challenged the initial regulation for not meeting requirements under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Maine delegation’s provision would block the stricter new rule and keep the old one in place for six years.
— Elena Shao
A ban on TikTok on government devices.
TikTok will be banned from all federal government devices under the spending bill, a move intended to assuage heightened privacy and national security concerns about the app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
U.S. officials have argued that TikTok, which has an estimated 100 million users in the United States, can share sensitive data about the location, personal habits and interests of Americans with the Chinese government.
— David McCabe
International climate finance loses out.
The bill includes just $1 billion to help poor countries develop renewable energy and build resilience to the impacts of climate change, roughly the same amount Congress granted last year.
It is a steep cut from the more than $3 billion that Democrats and the White House initially sought, with significant implications.
Mr. Biden has pledged that the United States will deliver $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to help developing nations tackle climate change. At this pace, analysts said it was hard to see how he could keep his promise. Moreover, at a recent U.N. summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the United States committed to a new fund to help poor countries that are experiencing irreversible losses from climate change.
The ability for the White House to secure more international dollars for climate change is only likely to get harder as Republicans, who oppose such funding, prepare to take control of the House in January. The White House and the State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
— Lisa Friedman
Two federal buildings will be renamed for Pelosi and Shelby.
Also tucked away in the bill were two provisions to rename federal buildings to honor Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama. Ms. Pelosi is stepping down as speaker as control of the House shifts to Republicans, and Mr. Shelby is retiring after more than 30 years in the Senate.
One federal building in San Francisco will be renamed the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building in recognition of the first female House speaker. It is the latest distinction for Ms. Pelosi, the most recent being the unveiling of her portrait in the speaker’s lobby. Congress also renamed a caucus room in the Cannon building on the Capitol grounds this year to the Speaker Pelosi Caucus Room. The room has been the location of the Jan. 6 hearings.
The measure also set aside $2 million to start a grant for a higher education institution to create a program to encourage foreign service participation among undergraduate students called the Nancy Pelosi Fellowship Program.
The federal spending plan also renamed the facilities of an F.B.I. office in Redstone Arsenal, Ala., to the Richard Shelby Center for Innovation and Advanced Training in honor of the state’s longest-serving senator.
— Stephanie Lai
Millions could lose access to Medicaid.
The legislation includes a number of proposals that could greatly affect Medicaid eligibility, maintaining pandemic-era policies that protected children, mothers and low-income Americans. But the bill’s passage could mean that millions of people who have been enrolled because of pandemic policies may lose access to the program next spring.
Under current law, states are required to keep all Medicaid beneficiaries enrolled as the public health emergency continues, most likely until the spring or summer. Lawmakers are proposing that states be allowed to remove some program recipients beginning April 1, regardless of when the emergency declaration is lifted.
The move could save the program money, but could mean that millions of Americans with incomes higher than the federal limit for the program will no longer be guaranteed coverage. States will be required to report to the federal government changes they make in Medicaid enrollment.
The bill has profound implications for children, roughly half of whom are enrolled in Medicaid or the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program. It requires the programs to keep children enrolled for at least a year, regardless of any changes to the family’s income.
— Noah Weiland and Margot Sanger-Katz
Pandemic preparation, but no independent commission.
The bill allocates $950 million, an increase of $205 million, for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop drugs and therapeutics to combat pandemics, and gives $965 million, an increase of $120 million, to the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s medical reserve, which was woefully unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic.
The spending measure also became a vehicle for adoption of a big chunk of a broad bipartisan pandemic prevention bill that passed the Senate health committee 20 to 2 in March. By including the PREVENT Act, the spending bill makes major structural changes to the nation’s health apparatus. It creates an Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy inside the White House, and makes the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a Senate-confirmed position — a provision that some fear will further politicize the nation’s public health agency.
But the centerpiece of the health committee’s measure — a proposal to create an independent commission, based on the 9/11 Commission, to investigate the pandemic’s origins and the Trump and Biden administrations’ response — was stripped out of the final budget legislation. An official familiar with the bill told The New York Times last week that the Biden White House did not support a commission.
— Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Spreading around disaster relief funds.
The bill includes about $40 billion for disaster relief, a response to the mix of hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other assorted calamities that have struck most of the United States this year.
The money is spread across more than a dozen agencies, a testament to the wide range of damages incurred by those disasters. The Agriculture Department would receive $3.7 billion to help farmers with crop and other losses. The National Park Service would get $1.5 billion for construction expenses related to wildfires, hurricanes and other disasters. The Transportation Department would see $214 million for public transit systems affected by disasters.
— Christopher Flavelle
A big funding increase for labor relations.
The bill would provide a roughly 9 percent budget increase, or an additional $25 million, for the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union elections and prosecutes labor law violations, such as firing workers for trying to form a union.
The funding increase would be the first for the agency since the 2014 fiscal year, though it is still about $20 million below the amount requested by the president and the agency.
Last month, leaders of the labor board wrote congressional appropriators to warn that their funding situation was dire and would most likely lead to furloughs, and that they had already imposed a hiring freeze. Data provided by the agency shows that its field staff, which oversees union elections and handles unfair labor practice charges, has dropped by half, to about 700 full-time equivalents, over the past two decades even as its workload has increased.
According to the letter to Congress, the number of unfair labor practice charges per field worker has increased about 40 percent since 2014, the last time the agency’s budget increased. The letter said the agency effectively stood to lose millions of dollars from its budget because of inflation had it remained flat in nominal terms for another year.
— Noam Scheiber