Finance

Five things to know about the $1.5T spending bill Congress just passed 

Congress finally passed a sweeping $1.5 trillion spending omnibus package this week, capping off months of bruising negotiations and partisan fights over how to fund the government through fiscal 2022.   

Spending negotiations were laced with drama until the House first unveiled the 2,000-plus page package at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday and well throughout its speedy track to passage in both chambers less than two days later, with members on both sides lamenting the lack of time they had to comb through the lengthy text. 

The massive spending plan now heads to President Biden’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law next week.  

Here are how five key spending battles ended up playing out in the sprawling package. 

Defense vs. nondefense 

One of the biggest battles over the bill was over how much money defense and nondefense spending would get. 

Republicans and Democrats were at a stalemate for months as GOP leaders demanded equal levels of growth in the two areas.  

In the end, Democrats lauded a 6.7 percent increase to nondefense discretionary spending, which they say is the biggest increase in four years.  

The GOP touted a $42 billion increase for defense spending. It said the deal achieves dollar-for-dollar parity for defense and nondefense increases as well as an 11 percent increase from the previous fiscal year for the Department of Homeland Security. 

Republican leaders say the outcome is a check on ambitious spending plans from Democrats, though conservative GOP lawmakers are split on how many concessions Democrats ended up making. 

“Only if you think that going from like asking for 15 percent increases down to seven or eight is a big concession. And historically, we’ve never done more than two or three recently,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

COVID-19 money 

Billions of dollars in COVID-19 funding was scrubbed from the package hours after its unveiling on Wednesday after a revolt from House Democrats frustrated over plans to pull the money from relief already allocated to states. 

More than $15 billion in supplemental funding was included in an earlier version of the package after the White House last week called on lawmakers to authorize $22.5 billion to bolster federal coronavirus efforts. But House Democrats were furious with language to offset the funding by pulling previously allocated funds from states that had not yet been spent. 

“This deal was cut behind closed doors. Members found out this morning. This is completely unacceptable,” Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), who said her state was among the dozens that would be impacted by the plans, told reporters after leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office ahead of the omnibus vote on Wednesday. 

The GOP had demanded the offset, but the Democratic resistance to that push threatened the bill’s passage.  

House leaders confirmed the funding was eventually dropped from the package later Wednesday, paving a way for passage in the lower chamber. Leaders are expected to set up a vote on another COVID-19 funding measure without the offsets in the lower chamber in the days ahead. But its passage in the Senate is far from certain. 

Legacy riders 

Democrats were unsuccessful in efforts to keep controversial legacy riders with restrictions in areas such as abortion and marijuana out of the omnibus as Republicans drew red lines around the so-called non-starters in spending talks.   

The Hyde amendment was among the best-known riders to be reinstalled in the appropriations legislation after Democrats omitted the provision last year. 

The amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions in most cases. It has been included in annual appropriations bills since it was introduced by then-Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the 1970s. 

Republican appropriators also lauded the package’s inclusion of the Weldon amendment, a rider Democrats also previously sought to drop that bars entities that don’t want to provide abortion care from being denied federal dollars. 

Another years-old provision, known as the Harris rider, which bars the legalization of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital, also made its way back into the bill, despite Democratic efforts to nix it from funding legislation. Washington, D.C., voted to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2014. 

Despite the provision’s impact on marijuana business in D.C, the lesser-known rider appeared to fall through the cracks in spending negotiations, with several members saying in recent days that they were either not following the status of the rider or unaware of its existence. 

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 

Congress tied a bow on a legislative push to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as part of the omnibus, following tough negotiations between members on both sides of the aisle on gun-related provisions. 

A bipartisan group of senators first announced a deal on a framework for VAWA reauthorization late last year, nearly a decade after it was last reauthorized. 

At the time, the senators announced the plan as an effort to bolster domestic violence response at multiple levels of government as well as efforts to combat dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. 

But it also outlined a key provision that advocates call the so-called boyfriend loophole by prohibiting individuals convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence against a dating partner from possessing or purchasing firearms or ammunition. 

The move marked the latest attempt by lawmakers to go after the loophole in recent years. Previous efforts were attacked by gun rights groups and Republicans as unnecessary “gun control,” though proponents have said it would save lives. 

However, the provision was later dropped from the legislation when lawmakers behind the effort rolled out the bill last month — a move senators say was made to win necessary GOP support. 

Senators say there was also last-minute drama related to the VAWA plan that held up passage of the omnibus on Thursday night. 

Border wall funding 

A Democratic-led effort to rescind $1.9 billion previously allocated for border barrier funds under the Trump administration also failed after staunch opposition from Republicans. 

Democrats had wanted to repurpose the funding for border security technology, IT modernization efforts and environmental mitigation efforts, among other proposals. But in remarks to The Hill this week, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Chairman Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the funding secured in his panel for fiscal 2022 will still fund the party’s proposed plans.  

“In the end, our allocation was big enough that we didn’t need to use that old border wall funding for our new priorities,” Murphy said. “We got an allocation that was big enough to be able to fund the new priorities.” 

The development comes after border wall funding emerged as a sticking point in spending talks, with both sides having a hard time agreeing on a path forward on the matter. 

Murphy said some of the previously allocated border wall funds that weren’t rescinded will go toward tying up loose ends on parts of the construction that could pose hazards. But he added that any wall funds left over “will continue to be an unspent balance.” 

Tags Angie Craig Appropriations Border wall Budget Chris Murphy Hyde Amendment Immigration Joe Biden Mike Braun Nancy Pelosi omnibus

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