House passes $1.5 trillion bipartisan omnibus, but Dems forced to remove COVID funding

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


The House worked late into the evening Wednesday as a Democratic majority had to overcome resistance from Republicans and within its own ranks to pass a long-awaited bicameral federal spending package for fiscal year 2021-22.

Just before midnight in the Eastern Time zone, the House passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus bill that ended the months-long recurrent threat of a government shutdown and cleared the way for billions in humanitarian and defense aid to be sent to Ukraine.

Already working on a second continuing resolution, the more recent of which was passed last month to give Congress a few weeks to iron out the details of a bipartisan agreement, the House was forced to pass a funding patch bill to avoid a government shutdown while the Senate works to pass the bill in the upper chamber.

The Senate, which would have previously had until Friday to approve the bill, now has a four-day extension.

Unlike in months past, this bill is expected to pass without the need of another stopgap measure, and the federal government should be fully funded for the remainder of the fiscal year within the next five days.

If for no other reason than the newest bill includes $15 billion in assistance for Ukraine, a nation both Democrats and Republicans are eager to publicly support, few in the Senate are likely to find the backing they’d need to spoil the passage of the omnibus.

“This bipartisan agreement will help us address many of the major challenges we face at home and abroad: from COVID-19 to the vicious and immoral attack on Ukraine, to the need to lower costs for hardworking American families,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already signaled his support of the bill, which assures Republican resistance will be minimal, scattered, and likely futile.

“This bipartisan government funding agreement is the major step forward that our national security needs,” McConnell said in a statement. “This is a dangerous time for the United States and our partners. This compromise legislation will enable us to invest in military modernization to keep pace with Russia and China and urgently deliver the emergency aid that the brave people of Ukraine desperately need.”

Thus far, only Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has emerged as a Republican willing to slow the passage of the omnibus. Lee told CNN he wanted “at minimum” a vote on an amendment that would end vaccine mandates nationwide.

Republican and Democratic senators voted down two mandate-ending amendments last month when passing a stopgap measure.

The omnibus was to have included about $15.6 billion in COVID-19 spending, but Pelosi was forced to strip this provision when resistance from Republicans and some Democrats put in doubt the bill’s passage.

About $10 billion of the jettisoned COVID spending was to have been distributed among the states and would have gone toward the purchase of oral antivirals, monoclonal antibodies, and vaccines, as well as funding the creation of additional vaccines to guard against the emergence of new variants. Most of the remainder would have been used to boost international vaccination rates and to develop new COVID therapies.

“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” Pelosi told Politico.

In her Wednesday afternoon press conference, Pelosi said the primary reason for the removal was fear over the bill’s fate in the Senate.

“[You] had to have 60 votes in the Senate, and we couldn’t get 60 votes without taking money out of the state allocations that were in the Rescue package,” Pelosi said. “And that Republican obstruction required that we pass – now taking off this bill, to separate legislation containing funding to continue the fight against COVID.”

McConnell and Republicans in the Senate have long demanded dollar-for-dollar parity between defense and non-defense spending, which was another reason for Republican insistence the COVID funding be removed.

“Republicans fought hard, over the objections of many Washington Democrats, to give our Armed Forces the resources they need,” McConnell said. “And we won. This agreement provides significantly more money than the Biden Administration requested for defense and significantly less money than the Administration requested for non-defense. At my insistence, it also provides much more money for Ukraine than Democrats had proposed, particularly for authorities and funding to deliver crucial military equipment to Ukraine quickly.”

In appeasing Republicans, Pelosi upset some of the farther left members of her party.

“Why is it that we can create new money for defense spending, but when it comes to investing in our communities, the only way Congress can make a deal is by taking that same lifesaving American Rescue Plan money away from our communities,” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said in a statement. “We cannot turn our backs on the progress this money is intended to fund … To turn around and now say we’re taking hundreds of millions of dollars back, in the name of bipartisanship is just unbelievable. I vehemently oppose efforts to snatch back the lifesaving resources we need to fully and equitably recover from this pandemic.”

Beyond money for Ukraine, U.S. defense, and the full funding of the federal government, the omnibus also contains provisions that grant $1 billion to fund President Joe Biden’s cancer initiative, reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and send $112 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Proof of the President and Democrats’ renewed, some might argue sudden, commitment to fully funding the police, the bill allocates just under $4 billion in grants for state and local law enforcement, an increase of about $506 million from last year.