On Wednesday, the House passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus budget measure to fund the federal government and deliver $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine and Eastern European countries.
However, $15.6 billion for the COVID-19 response went by the wayside as Democrats fought to support the bill. The legislation’s defense section passed by a vote of 361-69, while the domestic expenditure section passed by 260-171, with one present vote.
The 2,700-page bill, which now advances to the Senate, results from months of bipartisan and bicameral discussions between senior Democratic and Republican appropriators.
The package’s specifics were announced early Wednesday, ahead of the Friday deadline for Congress to adopt legislation averting a partial government shutdown.
A disagreement over how to fund the COVID-related measures forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to withdraw the pandemic funding from the bill Wednesday afternoon, a decision she described as “heartbreaking.”
Republicans asked that the $15.6 billion be offset by cuts elsewhere, but Democratic leaders agreed to pay half of the cost using money left over from earlier pandemic relief. However, other Democratic lawmakers objected, claiming that their states already had plans to use the monies.
“This has been quite a day,” Pelosi told reporters at the start of a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
The speaker reacted angrily to the press’s attention on the internal parliamentary deliberative process, while Ukraine said Russia bombed a maternity and children’s hospital.
To avoid a potential time constraint in the Senate, the House also approved a short-term continuing resolution that would fund federal agencies until March 15 if the omnibus funding package does not reach President Biden’s desk by the end of the week.
The law authorizes $730 billion in non-defense expenditure, a 6.7 percent increase over the fiscal year 2021, according to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Additionally, it authorizes $782 billion in defense expenditure, an increase of 5.6 percent over last year.
During the deal’s talks, Senator Richard Shelby, the Appropriations committee’s ranking Republican, stated that he “insisted on dollar-for-dollar parity for defense and non-defense increases.”
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lauded the bipartisan agreement, saying it will help support Mr. Biden’s critical domestic initiatives.
“This bipartisan agreement will assist us in addressing several significant concerns at home and abroad, including COVID-19, the brutal and immoral attack on Ukraine, and the need to reduce expenses for hardworking American families,” they stated.
Shalanda Young, acting budget director at the White House, encouraged Congress to transmit the measure to Vice President Biden for signing expeditiously.
“The bipartisan financing measure demonstrates that both parties are capable of working together to promote key national issues,” she said in a statement.
“It would entail unprecedented levels of help to the Ukrainian people, a daring new project to accelerate progress toward treating cancer and other diseases, and more support for keeping our communities safe.”
Assistance to Ukraine
The $13.6 billion in assistance to Ukraine exceeds the $10 billion requested by the White House last week to aid Ukraine and European partners in the aftermath of Russia’s incursion.
The Defense Department will get more than $6.5 billion in emergency supplementary aid, while the State Department will receive $3.9 billion for humanitarian assistance.
Additionally, the US Agency for International Development will get about $2.8 billion to assist disadvantaged populations in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. At the same time, the Departments of Justice and Commerce would receive smaller amounts.
According to the United Nations, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has triggered Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, with over 2 million people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring nations.
The humanitarian catastrophe and ongoing war in Ukraine, which Russia initiated two weeks ago, have prompted bipartisan demands for the US to increase its support for Ukraine.
COVID-19 assistance is withdrawn.
The White House has requested an additional $22.5 billion in funding for the COVID-19 response, despite Senate Republicans’ reservations about the necessity for more funding.
The first bill’s $15.6 billion — less than the White House’s proposal — would have aided in the procurement of medicines and vaccinations, as well as the worldwide fight against COVID-19.
Over $10 billion was allocated to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. The majority of funds went toward acquiring oral antivirals, monoclonal antibodies, and vaccinations, and the remainder toward developing injections to guard against future versions.
Approximately $4.4 billion of the $15.6 billion would have been used to assist an endeavor in increasing global immunization rates and focusing on medicines and medical countermeasures to combat COVID-19.
As the House reconvened Wednesday morning to begin the process of debating the huge spending plan through procedural votes, Pelosi sent a letter to her Democratic colleagues that appeared to address questions about how the $15.6 billion for pandemic response would be paid for.
According to her, the Biden administration uncovered $8 billion in unused funds from American Rescue Plan projects.
“Democrats were also able to ensure that no financial changes were made to remaining payments to local governments,” she added. “While Republicans insisted on state cuts, we were able to assure that all states received at least 91% of the state money projected.”
However, as the day progressed, Pelosi stated that Democrats would delete the COVID-related component of the measure to assure passage of the remainder of the package.
“As a result of Republican demand — and the refusal of some of our Members to provide those offsets — we will return to the Rules Committee to eliminate COVID money and accept the altered bill,” she said in another letter.
“We must go on with the omnibus today, which includes emergency aid for Ukraine and funding for America’s families in need.”
The comprehensive budget package reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act, which expires in late 2018, and boosts the maximum Pell Grant payout by $400.
The measure appropriates $1 billion for Mr. Biden’s new cancer research effort, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, and $3.9 billion in grants to state and local law enforcement, increasing $506.4 million over the fiscal year 2021.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget of $112.2 billion includes $97.5 billion for medical treatment for veterans, including mental health care, women’s health, and homelessness aid.
Additionally, the bill directs the Architect of the Capitol to install an “honorific plaque” on the Capitol’s west front to recognize law enforcement officials and agencies that reacted to the Capitol building’s January 6 assault.