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Congress passes $1.7 trillion dollar funding package in its final act of the year
The bill, which cleared the Senate on Thursday and now heads to Biden for his signature, invests in housing, health care, education and other federal domestic and international priorities.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Welcome back to Supercreator, your weekly guide to the politicians, power brokers and policies shaping how online creators and their fans work and live in the new economy.
Two newsletters ago, I wrote what I thought would be my last issue of the year. Little did we know that five days later, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine would make a historic surprise visit to meet with President Joe Biden and address a joint session of Congress. (ICYMI: Read my in-depth recap of the visit.)
Then there was the business of funding the government, a task that — although is always put off until the last minute and almost never goes according to plan — many of my colleagues and I in the congressional press corps expected to be completed much sooner than just a few hours ago. But here we are.
I thought it would be helpful to break down the $1.7 trillion dollar bill known as the “omnibus” since it will affect federal policy through the end of next September on issues that matter to you like health care, education and housing. Keep reading for my notes on what’s in the bill, what’s out, why it took so long to pass and what leaders will focus on after the holidays now that they’ve averted a government shutdown.
And since official DC is officially OOO, I can say with relative certainty that I think you’re reading the last issue of Supercreator for the year. See you on January 3!
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A week after lawmakers approved a seven-day extension to keep federal agencies open while Democratic and Republican negotiators bargained a compromise — and hours before that extension was set to expire tonight — Congress passed a comprehensive government funding package that will now go to President Biden’s desk to be immediately signed into law.
The bill, known as an omnibus, cleared the House with a 225-201 vote despite fierce opposition from the far-right flank of the Republican conference and several members from both parties voting by proxy to avoid returning to DC in the days leading up to the Christmas holiday. The brutal snowstorm sweeping the country didn’t help encourage attendance either.
The Senate passed the bill by a 68-29 margin on Thursday afternoon following a marathon vote series. 18 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in favor.
“These bills tackle our nation’s toughest crises,” Rosa DeLauro, the top negotiator of the omnibus for House Democrats, said in a floor speech moments before it passed. “They help lower the cost of living for hardworking families in the middle class, create better-paying jobs and protect our communities and our national security. I am proud of this bill.”
The omnibus features $858 billion for military spending, far beyond what the Biden administration requested but much to the satisfaction of congressional Republicans who prioritized increased defense funding. And American troops will get a fully funded 4.6 percent pay raise. (FWIW though, the Defense Department this morning announced an increase in child care fees “to maintain quality health care for military families,” which I’m sure will now eat into whatever surplus servicemembers got from the raise.)
On the domestic side, Democrats were able to secure $772 billion in non-defense investments, up from last year but a concession from the dollar-for-dollar rule they pushed for to match social spending with military payouts.
“It’s something we’re going to continue to aspire to,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday.
The omnibus increases the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 to $7,395 for the 2023-2024 school year, representing the largest boost to the award since the 2009-2010 school year for the approximately seven million students who pursue postsecondary education.
The new 998 three-digit dialing code that routes callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received almost $502 in funding and $4.9 billion will go to opioid misuse, two important provisions among others focused on mental health and well-being.
To address food insecurity, the omnibus dedicates $40 million to a program that provides meals during the summer months for families whose children are certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals during the school year. Another $1.5 billion will go to a program that will build nearly 10,000 new rental and homebuyer units.
Earlier this year, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act and the omnibus funds $700 million, the most ever, for grants provided by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women.
A ban on TikTok on government devices to address security concerns related to the Chinese-owned social media app was included in the omnibus. The same goes for the Electoral Count Reform Act, which is designed to prevent another attack on the US Capitol, similar to what we saw on January 6th last year.
Congress also approved $45 billion in Ukraine aid, exceeding President Biden’s $37 billion request. And $40 billion was allocated for storms, wildfires and other natural disasters.
And overall, the omnibus contains over $15 billion for more than 7,200 projects in lawmakers’ home states and districts, as Stephanie Lai at The New York Times reports.
Congressional Democrats and activists are disappointed that the expanded Child Tax Credit was excluded from the omnibus, a provision they were hopeful would be added in the 11th hour, as I reported a week ago. As a result, the research-and-development tax extenders Republicans wanted were nixed from the final bill as well.
In addition to the Ukraine aid and disaster relief, the Biden administration also requested billions of dollars in COVID aid to replenish its stockpiles of tests, treatments and personal protective equipment and invest in next-generation vaccines. Republicans weren’t having any of that so it was blocked from the omnibus.
And to the chagrin of veterans groups and human rights organizations, the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide a pathway to permanent residency for tens of thousands of evacuees was kept out of the package too. Activists worry now the window has now closed on this legislation.
The Senate seemed poised to pass the omnibus on Wednesday but ran into a stalemate on a proposed amendment from Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah that would cut off funding to the Department of Homeland Security unless Title 42, the controversial Trump-era policy that empowers border agencies to deny people the right to seek asylum under the guise of public health policy, was extended.
Lee’s amendment was set at a 50-vote threshold, which meant it would have likely passed the Senate with a few Democrats in support. But it would have killed the bill in the House as progressive Democrats would have opposed the provision.
It got so bad that there were whispers of scrapping the omnibus altogether in favor of a short-term continuing resolution, the worst-case scenario after a government shutdown.
Schumer and his staff were negotiating early into Thursday morning on a fix to the Title 42 quagmire and ultimately found one in an unlikely savior: Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana offered an amendment that approved more money for border enforcement, immigration courts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and related programs. Both amendments ended up sinking because Democrats could vote for the Tester-Sinema proposal that was never going to receive Republican buy-in while starving Lee of the votes he needed to pass his amendment. And in the process, the coalitions needed to pass the omnibus in both chambers remained intact.
House Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the bill yesterday but they had to wait for the bill to arrive from the Senate, a process that was delayed because the Senate clerk and staff had to update the text with the approved amendments.
“Here’s one of the things that amazes me: The amendment process made it better,” Schumer said to reporters after the bill passed the Senate. “Usually when you have a big omnibus, the amendment process makes it worse because the minority is trying to undo a lot of the things in the bill. But here, we stood firm and got it done.”
Among the amendments, the Senate passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which includes provisions like more frequent bathroom breaks, the ability to carry a water bottle and the option to sit during a shift. Senators also approved the PUMP Act, amended a bill that strengthens protections for those breastfeeding in the workplace.
Additionally, the Senate unanimously agreed on an amendment to let assets seized from Russia be used for rebuilding in Ukraine.
And two bills that provide relief for 9/11 families and other U.S. victims of state-sponsored terrorism and close the funding gap in a program to pay for ongoing medical care of 9/11 survivors and first responders were added as amendments as well.
Once the House received the papers this morning, the Rules Committee met to set the terms of the debate before the final vote. (Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas made additional motions that forced members to take extra votes to extend the process.)
The final House vote was also delayed by Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who used the “magic minute,” which empowers leaders to indefinitely speak while taking up just one minute of official debate time.
Despite the few members who showed up to vote clamoring to get out of town for the holidays, McCarthy spent 25 minutes railing against the omnibus in what some view as a thinly veiled attempt to shore up support for his struggling speakership bid from a far-right flank of House conservatives who opposed the legislation.
“This is a monstrosity, one of the most shameful acts I’ve seen in this body,” McCarthy said. “The appropriations process failed the American public.”
He received a round of applause from his members for his efforts.
“After listening to that, it’s clear he doesn’t have the votes yet,” Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern said of McCarthy’s campaign for the House’s top gavel.
And on her way to the House chamber, Speaker Nancy Pelosi added in response to McCarthy’s “most shameful acts” critique: “I can’t help but wonder: Had [McCarthy] forgotten about January 6th?”
When the new Congress starts in 11 days, Democrats will no longer control the House, a development that will require Schumer to work with McCarthy — or whomever Republicans elect — to govern for the next two years.
Schumer told reporters that he has met with incoming House Democratic Leader and fellow Brooklynite Hakeem Jeffries for an initial discussion on how to work together. But he said he would wait until after McCarthy’s election to sit down with him.
Meanwhile, Pelosi said that she had no plans to offer McCarthy any advice.
“As far as he’s concerned, we haven’t had any formal conversations, but we interact,” she said. “And I’m just hoping that on January 3rd that [House Republicans] will be expeditiously able to elect a Speaker so that we can get on with the work of the Congress.”
This work, as you know by now, will take place without Pelosi as the top House Democrat for the first time in 20 years.
During her final press conference as Speaker on Thursday, she told reporters that while she is transitioning to a different role as a rank-and-file member that will feature less authority over caucus, she expects to have a strong influence on issues that matter to her like encouraging more women to run for office.
“I’m not going to be the mother-in-law who comes in and say, ‘This is the way my son likes his turkey stuffing, his scrambled eggs,’ or anything else. They have to have their own vitality about it all and they do,” Pelosi said of the new leadership triumvirate of Jeffries, Democratic Whip-elect Katherine Clark and Democratic Caucus Chair-elect Pete Aguilar. “My goal and my wish is that members, our new leadership in the House, based on the foundation that we have laid or forming their own approach, will do even better than the significant legislative successes that I have had as Speaker of the House.”
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