Here’s who wins in Congress’ $1.7 trillion funding bill

Politics

(NEXSTAR) – Congress is set to vote on a 4,155-page, $1.7 trillion government funding bill within days of its release this week.

The omnibus funding package, made up of the 12 annual appropriations bills, will fund the government and its various agencies through the remainder of fiscal 2023, which ends in late September.

Its expected passage in the days ahead will cap off months of stalemates in haggling over issues like levels of growth for defense and non-defense spending and decades-old riders.

Here are some things that made the cut — and what was scrapped:

IN THE BILL

An increase in defense spending

The package included $858 billion in defense funding, a figure in line with the dollar level set by the National Defense Authorization Act that passed both chambers earlier this month.

Negotiators say defense funding baseline saw about a 10 percent increase, above the 7.1 percent inflation rate and almost double that of the non-defense baseline, when not factoring in veterans funding — which Democrats had previously pressed be categorized in its own section in spending talks.

Ukraine aid

The funding bill includes more than $40 billion for Ukraine aid, higher than what the White House requested last month. The jump comes as there have been concerns about how such funding would fare next year in a GOP-led House where some conservatives have become critical of the aid.

The news also comes days after the Pentagon announced plans for the country to expand military training for Ukrainian troops in Germany.

“We will expand U.S.-led training for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, to include joint maneuver and combined arms operations training, while building upon the specialized equipment training that we’re already providing to the Ukrainians,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

TikTok ban

TikTok logo

The Associated Press/Kiichiro Sato

Legislation introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) seeking to prohibit the use of TikTok on government phones and devices made it into the package.

The measure’s inclusion comes after the Senate unanimously approved the bill earlier this month, and after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently expressed support for passing the legislation. 

Electoral Count Act Reform

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had said prior to the package’s release that he expected the Electoral Count Reform Act to make an appearance.

The measure would reform the 1887 Electoral Count Act to clarify the vice president cannot overturn election results when Congress counts Electoral College votes and raise the number of members necessary to raise objections to a state’s electors. 

Lawmakers have been pushing for the measure since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol while Congress was certifying the 2020 election, which followed former President Trump asserting former Vice President Mike Pence could overrule states’ electors.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also endorsed the bill in an op-ed ahead of its release, framing it as a necessary piece of legislation to protect the Electoral College.

“In 2021, the theater act went too far and culminated in a mob disrupting the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election,” Paul penned in an op-ed in The Louisville Courier-Journal.

Disaster relief

Louisville, Colo., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP, File)

The bill includes about $40 billion in funding to “assist communities across the country recovering from drought, hurricanes, flooding, wildfire, natural disasters and other matters,” a legislative summary from Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

However, a bipartisan group of House members from California expressed disappointment following the release, after they say help for fire survivors was missing in the bill.

“Along with several California colleagues, I worked hard to pass this legislation, but nobody worked harder than Mike Thompson. I commend Rep. Thompson for the passion and dedication he brought to this effort, and I share his disappointment that Northern California fire disaster victims will not get federal tax relief in this year’s government funding bill,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said. “I will keep working in every way I can to support Californians who lost property, homes, and even loved ones in the terrible wildfires that ravaged our region.”

OUT OF THE BILL

An increase in real-dollar nondefense spending compared to inflation

While defense spending saw a 10 percent jump, the package includes $772.5 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, an increase that is less than the 7.1 percent inflation rate.

Child tax credit expansion

A Democratic-led push for an expansion to the child tax credit, which saw a temporary revamp under the sweeping coronavirus relief package the party passed without GOP support last year, also didn’t make the cut. 

Under the temporary expansion, Democrats removed work requirements and raised the maximum credit amount. The expansion also allowed those eligible to access half of the credit amount through monthly payments.

However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) signaled his party’s campaign for the beefed-up credit, which Democrats laud as a means to help confront deep child poverty, is not over.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) addresses reporters following the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on March 22, 2022. (Greg Nash)

“We’re gonna show up every day and fight for it and particularly make it clear that this is an investment, in making sure that the number one priority of businesses – they want trained, educated workers – can be realized,” Wyden told The Hill on Monday, while citing the need to give children a “good start.”

Cannabis banking bill

A bipartisan push to tuck the popular cannabis banking bill known as the SAFE Banking Act into the omnibus failed.

The bill sought to do away with federal rules restricting banks from working with legal cannabis businesses. It had strong backing from Democrats, and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), a key backer, had said he was confident the bill, which had nine GOP co-sponsors, would fetch sufficient bipartisan support. 

“The failure to pass my bipartisan ‘SAFE Banking Act’ means communities in Montana and across our country will remain vulnerable to crime where legal businesses are forced to operate in all-cash,” Daines said. “This bill to promote public safety would have been well positioned to pass had it gone through the regular committee process—as I called for more than a year ago. Our small businesses, law enforcement and communities deserve better.”

Sentencing reform

iStock.

Advocates are in uproar over the absence of a bipartisan compromise worked out by leading Democrats and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to address sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Currently, an individual can be sentenced under federal law to at least five years behind bars for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine, and 10 years for possessing 5 kilograms. By contrast, individuals found to have possessed 28 grams of crack cocaine can be subjected to five-year sentences as a mandatory minimum under the same rulebook, and 10 years for 280 grams. 

While Democrats pushed to reduce that gap from 18-to-1 to 1-to-1, the compromise leaders worked out last week would have set the ratio at 2.5-to-1, amid resistance from Republicans to flattening the ratio entirely.

Increase for IRS funding

Republicans are touting a cut to funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), after Democrats green-lit roughly $80 billion in spending without GOP support earlier this year to strengthen the office and bolster its enforcement of tax laws.

Negotiators say the package only secured about $12.3 billion for the tax agency, or $275 million less than the fiscal 2022 enacted levels.

The IRS funding boost approved by Democrats months back is one of several tax-related provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act to raise revenue to help cut the nation’s deficit over the next decade.

In funding highlights boasted by GOP negotiators, Republicans said the bill cut IRS funding “for the first time in a decade.”

Democrats said in summary detailing the IRS portion that the funds “have not been provided for business systems modernization since funds are available for that activity from unobligated balances in the American Rescue Plan.”

“The IRS budget has decreased by about 15 percent in real terms since fiscal year 2010. Staffing levels have declined and now are close to 1974 levels,” they also said in a release.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

On top of defense funding levels Republicans are already celebrating from the package, GOP appropriators are also highlighting the 4.6 percent raise secured for military pay.

But despite what Republicans have touted as a lack of parity in growth levels for defense and non-defense spending, Democrats have also highlighted a list of investments in the package in a broad overview.

That includes multiple investments in health care and research, such as $47.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $9.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $1.5 billion for an initiative by President Biden aimed at fighting cancer, and $950 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program saw a $13.4 billion increase, and boosts of $28.5 billion for child nutrition programs and $6 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children were also included.

Democratic negotiators also tout the $1.435 billion for the Housing for the Elderly and Housing for Persons with Disabilities program and new Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers they say would support over 11,000 additional low-income households.

They say the bill would also raise the “maximum Pell Grant award to $7,395 [and include] $18.387 billion for Title I-A grants, and $1.2 billion for TRIO to support more than 800,000 low-income first-generation students get into college and succeed when they’re there.”

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