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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Lawmakers unveil sprawling spending bill to avoid shutdown

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, Dec. 20, 2022. Top lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a sprawling government spending package that would keep the government open through next fall after reaching a compromise on billions of dollars in federal spending, including another round of emergency aid to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

By Emily Cochrane

Top lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a sprawling spending package that would keep the government open through next fall after reaching a compromise on billions of dollars in federal spending, including more emergency aid to Ukraine.

The legislation would increase federal spending from the last fiscal year, providing $858 billion in military spending and more than $772 billion for domestic programs for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends in September, according to a summary released by Senate Democrats. With Republican support needed for the measure to pass the Senate, Democrats bowed to conservative opposition to approving a larger increase that would have kept funding levels equal for health, education and other domestic programs that President Joe Biden and his party have prioritized.

The release of the legislation came around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, days before a midnight Friday deadline to fund the government or face a shutdown, after lawmakers passed a one-week stopgap funding bill last week to give themselves more time to discuss the bigger spending package.

The measure is the last opportunity for Democrats to shape the federal budget while their party controls both chambers of Congress and for several retiring lawmakers to push a final round of pet projects into law. With Republicans set to take control of the House — and vowing to force deep spending cuts — lawmakers in both parties were eager to finish the compromise and remove one possible threat of political brinkmanship.

“The choice is clear: We can either do our jobs and fund the government, or we can abandon our responsibilities without a real path forward,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, calling the bill “undoubtedly in the interest of the American people” in a statement early Tuesday.

Given that the 4,155-page package is the final, must-pass legislation for this Congress, lawmakers stuffed it with dozens of funding priorities and unrelated bipartisan measures. That included an overhaul of the electoral vote-counting law that former President Donald Trump tried to use to overturn the 2020 election and a ban on the Chinese-owned app TikTok on government devices.

The package also includes earmarks, rebranded for a second consecutive year as community project funding, that allow lawmakers to divert some money to specific projects in their districts and states. It also provides the funding needed to fulfill policy changes outlined in bipartisan legislation that became law this Congress, including a bill aimed at bolstering U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The release of the legislation was delayed Monday in part by a prolonged tussle between lawmakers from Virginia and Maryland over criteria that will determine a new location for the FBI headquarters, according to four people briefed on the negotiations.

The two states — backed by senior Democrats such as Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia — have been in a long-running battle to be the home of the FBI as it plans to move from downtown Washington into the suburbs. After frenzied negotiations, the two delegations agreed to language requiring the government to have detailed consultations with teams from both states before picking a site, a Senate Democratic aide said.

The package, which provides roughly $1.7 trillion to keep the government funded, also sets aside billions of dollars more for emergency aid, including more than $40 billion for Ukraine, more than the $37.7 billion the White House requested. It also provides about $40 billion to help communities across the country recover from hurricanes, wildfires and droughts in the past year.

The legislation includes plans intended to improve the nation’s response to future pandemics, though lawmakers did not include a proposal to create an independent panel to investigate the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In their effort to secure at least 10 Republican votes to avoid a filibuster, Democrats were forced to abandon a number of priorities, including reviving lapsed expanded payments to most families with children, emergency aid to counter the toll of the coronavirus pandemic and a bid to lift the cap on the nation’s borrowing limit before an expected deadline next year.

Republicans — led by Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and Richard Shelby of Alabama, the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee — emphasized their success in negotiating more funding for the military, as some conservatives balked at the overall spending increase and lamented that they could have had a stronger negotiating hand had party leaders waited until they controlled the House.

“Republicans’ position all along was quite simple: defending America and outcompeting our rivals is a fundamental governing duty,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “It’s the basic business that we’re supposed to take care of, not something for which Democrats get special rewards, and that is precisely what is finally happening.”

Democrats, who muscled through more than $2 trillion over unanimous Republican opposition earlier this congressional session, in turn spoke of their success in shoring up some health care, veterans assistance, housing and food programs and protecting other domestic funding priorities, even as they acknowledged that several of their initiatives had to be curtailed or left out.

“This funding bill is overflowing with very good news for our troops, for the Ukrainian brave fighters, for American jobs, for our families and for American democracy,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. He urged senators to take up the bill quickly in the coming days.

“It’s not everything we would have wanted, of course,” Schumer said. “When you’re dealing in a bipartisan, bicameral way, you have to sit down and get it down, and that means each side has to concede some things. But it is something that we can be very proud of.”

The package also strengthens Medicaid benefits for some recipients, providing five years of funding for Medicaid in Puerto Rico and permanent funding for coverage in other U.S. territories. The bill also offers other protections for Medicaid recipients, ensuring that children in the program and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program receive a year of continuous coverage after enrollment.

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