The Senate on Thursday voted to pass a $1.7 trillion omnibus package that funds the federal government through September, provides Ukraine with $45 billion in military and economic aid and sets aside $38 billion for emergency disaster assistance.
It also includes reforms to the Electoral Count Act in response to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, clarifying that the vice president does not have the power to overturn the results of a presidential election.
The package passed with a large bipartisan majority, 68-29, wrapping up the Senate’s legislative business in the 117th Congress a few days before Christmas.
The omnibus bill represents one of several major bipartisan legislation accomplishments of President Biden’s first two years in office, along with the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, to address gun violence; and the $280 billion Chips and Science Act, to improve U.S. competitiveness with China.
It spends $858 billion on defense programs, a 9.7 percent increase, and $772.5 billion on nondefense, non-veterans-related programs, representing a 5.5 percent increase.
It also includes $118.7 billion for Veterans Affairs medical care, a 22 percent increase, and $59 billion for programs authorized by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Congress passed last year.
It provides $19.8 billion to arm and equip Ukrainian force and NATO allies and $12.9 billion to stabilize the Ukrainian economy and make up for shortfalls. Passage came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress to ask for continued American support.
The House is expected to take up the legislation as soon as Thursday evening and vote to send it to Biden’s desk before government funding runs out at the end of Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hailed the bill as a victory for Republicans because it increased defense spending above the rate of inflation while boosting nondefense, non-veterans spending by less than inflation.
“The world’s greatest military will get the funding increase that it needs, outpacing inflation. Meanwhile, nondefense, non-veterans spending will come in below the rate of inflation, for a real-dollar cut,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, touting GOP wins in the bill.
The legislation passed early Thursday afternoon after senators raced through a series of amendments, staying seated at their desks to limit each vote to 10 minutes.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that failing to pass the bill would have risked a freeze of federal funding levels well into 2023 or even a government shutdown.
“To go to a [continuing resolution] or even worse, a government shutdown, would be a huge disservice at any time, and particularly at holiday season, to the American people,” he said.
The package left some key Democratic priorities on the cutting room floor, including a proposal to extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit and the SAFE Banking Act, which would prohibit federal regulators from penalizing financial institutions that do business with legitimate cannabis-related businesses.
But Democrats also got many priorities included that they can tout to constituents back home, such as a $500 increase for Pell Grant awards, the largest increase in over a decade.
Republicans, in turn, got a $275 million cut to the IRS’s budget and language prohibiting the transfer of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States.
Senators had hoped to wrap up the bill Wednesday or early Thursday so they could catch their flights home for the Christmas break before a massive winter storm paralyzed airports across the nation.
As of mid-morning Thursday, more than 1,400 flights had been canceled nationwide.
But the omnibus stalled Wednesday and appeared to be in danger of derailing completely when Schumer couldn’t strike a deal with Republicans on which amendments to vote on.
He had to find a way to get around an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would have cut funding for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s office unless the Biden administration reinstated the Trump-era Title 42 policy, which blocks migrants from entering the country on asylum claims.
Lee’s amendment got a boost Wednesday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled it could be added to the omnibus with a simple-majority vote, instead of having to clear the 60-vote threshold that applies to many amendments.
Democrats feared Lee’s amendment could pick up the support of a few centrists in their caucus, which would have allowed it to pass and endanger the chances of passing the omnibus through the House, where progressive Democrats oppose keeping Title 42 in place.
Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) stepped in to break the partisan logjam Thursday morning by offering her own side-by-side amendment to boost funding for border security and extend Title 42 until the Biden administration puts in place “a proper plan” to handle the expected deluge of migrants once the health restriction is lifted.
“Enough is enough. Stop using the border as a political tool. We are here to do our job. We must fund the government and we must solve our border crisis,” she said on the floor.
It gave centrist Democrats enough political cover to agree to a vote on Lee’s amendment, knowing they had an alternative Title 42 proposal to support instead.
Lee slammed Sinema’s amendment as “a ruse designed to provide political cover for people who recognize the crisis on the border and want to appear to be doing something about it.”
It only got 10 votes but gave crucial cover to several Democrats facing competitive races in 2024: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who co-sponsored the proposal, Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (Nev.).
Sinema also voted for the measure, along with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is working with her on immigration reform legislation, and Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.).
After that vote, Lee’s amendment failed on a straight party-line vote of 47-50. Three GOP senators missed the votes.
Passage of the omnibus finishes Congress’s work on the 12 annual spending bills in one fell swoop after the Senate failed to pass a single regular appropriations bill before Thursday, well past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
A large group of Senate Republicans ended up voting for the final package, but many of them expressed frustration that they had to vote on all the spending bills balled up in one package with only a couple of days to review the 4,155-page omnibus.
“The process is a complete disaster,” said retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted against the legislation.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) met with Senate Republicans Wednesday to ask them to work with House Republicans more closely next year to avoid another scramble to pass a massive omnibus spending bill before Christmas.