U.S. House approves $1.7T funding package and sends it to Biden; Pa. pols react

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Friday to approve a sweeping $1.7 trillion government spending package that carries along with it dozens of new initiatives, including an update to how Congress certifies electoral votes for president and new protections for pregnant workers.

The 225-201 bipartisan vote, with one member voting present, sends the 4,126-page measure to President Joe Biden for his expected signature. The evenly divided U.S. Senate voted 68-29 to approve the bill Thursday after adding several bipartisan amendments to the package.

The vote was sparsely attended with dozens of Democrats and Republicans voting by proxy, an option that was put in place by Democrats during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and which is expected to end next Congress when Republicans take control of the House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat in his last days as majority leader, spoke in support of the omnibus, but lamented the process that pushed lawmakers up against a pre-Christmas deadline that comes nearly three months into the fiscal year.

“This does not come as a surprise to any of us that we have to fund the government of the United States of America,” he said.

Hoyer criticized the U.S. Senate where lawmakers didn’t debate any of the dozen spending bills in committee or on the floor, before negotiators began working on the catchall omnibus spending package near the end of the year.

Huge $1.7T spending package passes in U.S. Senate with bipartisan backing 

“This is simply not the right way to do it, but it must and should and will be done today,” he said.

Hoyer added that Congress has a “responsibility to address issues that undermine the strength and prosperity of American workers and families” and celebrated the spending package including nutrition assistance, funding for child care, and money to reduce monthly utility bills as well as enhance retirement savings rules.

House GOP fights package

While Senate Republicans were involved in negotiations, House Republican leaders opted to omit themselves from the process, pushing instead to use a stopgap spending bill to hold over talks on the full-year spending bills until they control the chamber in January.

Republicans argued during floor debate Friday that it was wrong for Congress to pass a government funding package during the lame-duck session that comes between the November elections and the new session beginning in January. GOP lawmakers also opposed much of the spending in the bill and said they hadn’t had time to read it, following a Tuesday morning release.

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District,  said the omnibus “does nothing to effectively address any of the crises that we are currently facing.”

In statements, other Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers criticized the bill, calling its speedy passage this week “irresponsible.”

“Although there are some good parts to the bill, overall, I cannot support spending taxpayer money without thoroughly reviewing everything that’s inside,” U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, said. “Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House, and still could not pass this bill on time. Voting “no” isn’t irresponsible. The way our government rushes to spend taxpayer money without critical oversight is irresponsible. The American people deserve better.”

Retiring U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, a Republican whose 12th District seat was redrawn during redistricting, dismissed the bill as a “reckless” proposal that is “burdening future generations with unsustainable debt.

“The budgeting process in Congress is broken, and this 4,000-page spending bill was produced by politicians who’ve been in Washington far too long. We must get back to regular order where we debate bills and have a transparent process in front of the American people,” Keller said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is trying to secure the votes to become speaker, said the spending package was “one of the most shameful acts I’ve ever seen in this body.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, later challenged that assertion, questioning if McCarthy had forgotten the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters.

Following the sometimes tense debate Friday, nine House GOP lawmakers ended up voting for the spending package while one Democrat voted against the measure and one voted present.

Spending increases for Pentagon, domestic programs

The bill includes $858 billion in defense spending, up from $782 billion during the last fiscal year, and about $773 billion in non-defense funding, an increase from the $730 billion that Congress approved during the last appropriations process.

Those spending levels were broken down into the dozen annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government for fiscal year 2023, which began on Oct. 1. The money will go to dozens of federal departments and agencies, including Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security, national parks and public lands, and Transportation.

The package would provide about $40 billion in additional spending to help communities recover from natural disasters and $45 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

The legislation includes a bipartisan bill to update and clarify the 1887 Electoral Count Act to reinforce the vice president’s role as ceremonial. It also boosts the number of lawmakers needed to object to Congress certifying a state’s electoral votes for president from one member of each chamber to one-fifth of the members in each chamber.

The measure included a bill that would ban federal employees from having the social media app TikTok, or any apps from ByteDance Limited on their work phones amid growing concern about the Chinese government’s access to the data the app collects from user’s phones.

In a statement, Democratic U.S. Rep. Susan Wild pointed to the benefits the bill would have for her Lehigh Valley-based 7th Congressional District seat.

That includes:

  • “Significant support for local, state, and federal law enforcement to ensure our communities are well-served and protected.
  • Increased support for affordable housing and pathways to home ownership, continued investment in the rollout of high-speed broadband, expansion of childcare and early learning opportunities to support working families,
  • “Major wins for American workers, including increased funding to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to ensure workers’ rights are protected and investments in job training and apprenticeship programs to give people the skills needed to excel,
  • “Increased funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to combat substance abuse and support mental health,
  • “Support for preserving good-paying jobs in the district at Lehigh Heavy Forge, Mack Trucks, and Air Products, and
  • “Funding for Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness program to ensure they have access to the mental health resources they need to continue to serve our communities,” Wild’s office said.

“This government funding bill reflects priorities I have long worked to advance for the people of Pennsylvania’s 7th District— lowering health care costs, keeping our promises to seniors and veterans, investing in education and job training, and addressing the unique needs of our community,” Wild said.

Medicaid phaseout, pregnant workers

The package would allow states to begin removing some people from the Medicaid program for low-income individuals as soon as April 1. It would also begin to phase out the increase in federal funds that went to keeping people on Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican governors have been pressing for an end to the public health emergency and the requirement their states cannot kick people off the health care program. Twenty-five GOP governors wrote a letter to Biden earlier this week, saying the requirement is “​​negatively affecting states” by increasing the number of their residents on Medicaid and state investment in the program.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic,” they wrote, “states have added 20 million individuals to the Medicaid rolls (an increase of 30%) and those numbers continue to climb as the PHE continues to be extended every 90 days.”

The U.S. Senate added eight bipartisan amendments to the package before sending it to the U.S. House for the final vote.

Senators voted to add in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant people; a bill expanding workplace protections for nursing mothers to millions more people not currently covered under a 2010 law; and language that gives local, state and tribal governments flexibility in how they use unspent COVID-19 dollars form the federal government.

The Senate added in a bipartisan provision that would allow the U.S. Justice Department through the Secretary of State to send Ukraine proceeds from seized assets of Russian oligarchs or other Russian entities under sanctions.

The U.S. House on Friday also agreed to send Biden a stopgap spending bill through Dec. 30 that will allow time for Congress to enroll the larger omnibus package and for the president to sign it.

The current short-term spending bill expires Friday at midnight, so the additional stopgap bill was needed to avoid a funding lapse or partial government shutdown.

Biden said in a statement released shortly after the vote that the package “is further proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people, and I’m looking forward to continued bipartisan progress in the year ahead.”

Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Jennifer Shutt

Comments are closed.