House passes $1.7 trillion spending bill with help from Ukraine

A $1.7 trillion spending bill to fund federal agencies through September and provide further aid to a devastated Ukraine was cleared from the House of Representatives on Friday as lawmakers rush to complete their work for the year and a partial to avoid government shutdown.

The bill passed mostly along party lines, 225-201. It is now up to President Joe Biden to sign the law into law.

Passing the bill was a final act in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s second term as Speaker of the House, and for the Democratic majority, it returned her to power in the 2018 election. Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives next year and Rep. Kevin McCarthy is campaigning to replace here.

He is asking for support from staunch Conservatives in his group, who have largely defeated the scope of the bill and many of the priorities it enshrines. He spoke in a raised voice for about 25 minutes, criticizing the bill for spending too much and doing too little to curb illegal immigration and the flow of fentanyl across the US-Mexico border.

“This is a monstrosity that is one of the most shameful acts I have seen on this body,” McCarthy said of the legislation.

The speech prompted a brief quip from Rep Jim McGovern, D-Mass, who said, “After listening to this, it’s clear he doesn’t have the votes yet,” a reference to McCarthy’s campaign to become spokesperson.

Pelosi said, “We have a big bill here because we had big needs for the country,” then turned to McCarthy:

“It was sad to hear the minority leader say that this legislation is the most disgraceful thing seen on the floor of this Congress,” Pelosi said. “I can’t help but wonder if Jan. 6 forgot?”

Biden welcomed the bill’s approval, saying it is proof that Republicans and Democrats can work together and “I look forward to further bipartisan progress in the coming year.”

“This law is good for our economy, our competitiveness and our communities – and I will put it into effect as soon as it gets to my desk,” Biden said.

The Senate passed the defense-heavy measure Thursday with significant bipartisan support, but the House vote was much more divided. Some 30 GOP lawmakers vowed to block any legislative priority coming from the Republican senators who voted in favor of the law, and leadership demanded a no.

In the end, nine Republicans in the House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill. Seven of them are leaving Congress. Only Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Steve Womack of Arkansas are returning. The only Democrat who voted against the measure was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

The bill is 4,155 pages, not including the amendments added by the Senate. It includes an approximately 6% increase in spending on domestic initiatives to $772.5 billion. Defense program spending will increase about 10% to $858 billion.

The bill passed just hours before funding for federal agencies expired. Lawmakers passed two bridging spending measures to keep the government going for this fiscal year so far, and a third was due to pass Friday and ensure services continue until Biden could sign off on the full-year measure, described as the omnibus.

The massive bill includes 12 budget bills, aid to Ukraine and disaster relief for communities recovering from hurricanes, floods and wildfires. It also includes numerous policy changes that lawmakers have included in the final major bill under consideration by the current Congress.

Lawmakers provided some $45 billion to Ukraine and NATO allies, more than even Biden had requested, an acknowledgment that future rounds of funding with a new GOP-led house are not guaranteed.

In a dramatic address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told lawmakers that the aid was not charity, but an investment in global security and democracy.

Although aid to Ukraine is largely bipartisan, some House Republicans are critical of the effort, arguing that the money is better spent on US priorities

“How can we send an additional $47 BILLION to Ukraine for security while terrorists, drugs and criminals flood our southern border?” tweeted Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.

“$100 trillion to Ukraine. Let’s put that into perspective,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who included past rounds of relief in his tally. “That’s more than $200 million this year from each congressional district. What could your congressman have done for your district with $200 million?”

McCarthy has warned that Republicans would not issue a “blank check” for Ukraine in the next Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after Thursday’s vote he had trouble understanding the concerns.

“I’m just confused by some of these right-wing Republicans who don’t want to help Ukraine,” Schumer said. “It’s always been that the stricter you were, the more anti-Soviet you were, but suddenly they’re pro. I hope it’s not a leftover from Trump.”

The Senate passed the funding package Thursday by a vote of 68 to 29, but it will be some time before the Senate clerk’s office reviews the bill and incorporates changes added that day. As a result, the bill ended with a half-empty chamber of the house. More than 220 lawmakers sought the opportunity to vote by proxy, and many rushed to get out of town before risking canceled flights and spending Christmas in Washington.

Republicans have vowed that scrapping the practice of remote voting will be among their first majority acts next year.

The funding bill also includes about $40 billion in US emergency relief spending primarily to help communities across the country recover from droughts, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

And there are dozens of policy changes largely unrelated to spending that lawmakers have been furious behind the scenes to include. Otherwise, they’ll be starting from scratch next year in a divided Congress that will see Republicans return to a majority in the House of Representatives.

One of the most notable examples was a historic revision of the federal election law designed to prevent future presidents or presidential candidates from attempting to overturn an election.

The bipartisan revision of the Electoral Count Act is a direct response to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to persuade Republican lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to oppose confirming Biden’s election victory on 6/24/2021.

Spending increases Democrats highlighted included: a $500 increase in the maximum amount of Pell grants for low-income college students, a $100 million increase in state block grants for programs to prevent and treat substance abuse, a 22 percent increase in VA medical care spending, and $3.7 billion in emergency relief for farmers and ranchers affected by natural disasters, to name a few.

The bill also provides approximately $15.3 billion for more than 7,200 projects that lawmakers have requested for their home states and counties. Under the revised rules for funding community projects, also known as earmarking, lawmakers must submit their applications online and confirm that they have no financial interest in the projects. Nevertheless, many fiscal conservatives criticize that earmarking leads to unnecessary spending.

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