Senate passes $1.7tn funding bill to avert US government shutdown
Bill includes $45bn in military aid to Ukraine after lawmakers reached agreement on a final series of votes
The US Senate on Thursday passed a $1.7tn government spending bill, sending it to the House to approve and send to Joe Biden for his signature, averting a partial government shutdown.
The legislation provides funding through 30 September 2023, for the US military and an array of non-military programs.
The legislation provides Ukraine with $44.9bn in wartime aid and bans the use of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on federal government devices.
Progress on the bill slowed after the conservative Republican Mike Lee introduced an amendment meant to slow immigration. That prompted Democrats to put forward a competing amendment that would boost funding for law enforcement agencies on the border. Both amendments failed, which allowed lawmakers to move forward.
The massive bill includes about $772.5bn for non-defense programs and $858bn for defense. Lawmakers raced to get it approved, many anxious to complete the task before a deep freeze could leave them stranded in Washington for the holidays. Many also wanted to lock in funding before a new Republican-controlled House makes it harder to find compromise.
On Wednesday night, senators heard from the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, about the importance of US aid for the war with Russia.
“Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Zelenskiy said.
The funding measure includes emergency assistance to Ukraine and Nato allies above Joe Biden’s request.
The Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said the worst thing Congress could do was give the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, any signal the US was wavering in its commitment to Ukraine. He also said he met Zelenskiy.
“He made it clear that without this aid package, the Ukrainians will be in real trouble and could even lose the war,” Schumer said. “So that makes the urgency of getting this legislation done all the more important.”
But when lawmakers left the chamber, prospects for a quick vote looked glum. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said the funding bill was “hanging by a thread”.
Republicans were looking to ensure a vote on a proposed amendment from Lee, of Utah, seeking to extend coronavirus pandemic-era restrictions on asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border, known as Title 42. Passage of the amendment would have doomed the bill in the Democratic-held House.
“Senator Schumer doesn’t want to have a vote on Title 42 because he presumably knows it will pass,” said Mitt Romney, the other Utah Republican. But the House won’t go along in that case, he added, in which case “everything falls apart”.
Lee told Fox News: “I insisted that we have at least one amendment, up-or-down vote, on whether to preserve Title 42. Because Title 42 is the one thing standing between us and utter chaos [at the border]. We already have mostly chaos. This would bring us to utter chaos if it expires, which it’s about to.”
The spending bill was supported by Schumer and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, for different reasons.
McConnell cited the bill’s 10% boost in defense spending but faced pushback from Republicans resenting being forced to vote on such a massive package with so little time before a shutdown and Christmas. It was expected, however, that enough Republicans agreed with McConnell that the bill would reach 60 votes.
Schumer touted the bill as a win on the domestic front, saying: “Kids, parents, veterans, nurses, workers: these are just a few of the beneficiaries of our bipartisan funding package, so there is every reason in the world for the Senate to finish its work as soon as possible.”
Lawmakers worked to stuff priorities into the package, which ran to 4,155 pages. It included $27bn in disaster funding and an overhaul of federal election law to prevent presidents or candidates trying to overturn an election. The bipartisan overhaul was a response to Donald Trump’s efforts to convince Republicans to object to Biden’s victory.
The bill also contained policy changes lawmakers worked to include, to avoid having to start over in the new Congress next year. Examples included the provision from Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, to ban TikTok on government cellphones. A provision supported by Maine would aid the state’s lobster and Jonah crab fisheries, delaying regulations to help save North Atlantic right whales.
On the healthcare front, the bill requires states to keep children enrolled in Medicaid on coverage for at least a year. Millions could still start to lose coverage on 1 April because the bill sunsets a requirement of the Covid-19 emergency that prohibited kicking people off Medicaid.
The bill also provides roughly $15.3bn for more than 7,200 projects lawmakers sought for their states. Fiscal conservatives criticize such spending as unnecessary.
The Senate appropriations committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, a Democrat retiring after nearly five decades in the chamber, praised bipartisan support for the measure following months of negotiations.
His Republican counterpart, Richard Shelby, who also is retiring, said of the 4,155-page bill: “It’s got a lot of stuff in it. A lot of good stuff.”
House Republicans, including Kevin McCarthy, probably the next speaker, had asked colleagues in the Senate to support only a short-term extension. A notice sent by leadership to House members urged them to vote against the measure.