Congress Clears $1.5 Trillion Spending Bill, Including Ukraine Aid

WASHINGTON — Congress cleared the first major federal spending legislation of President Biden’s administration on Thursday, approving a $1.5 trillion measure with substantial increases for domestic and national security programs, along with $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion.

The Senate approved the more than 2,700-page measure by a vote of 68 to 31 less than two days after it was finalized and pushed through the House, a rapid timetable that reflected strong bipartisan support for assisting Ukraine and a sense of urgency to avert a government shutdown within days. The bill, which funds the government through September, includes generous spending on domestic programs long prioritized by Democrats and military investments championed by Republicans.

Mr. Biden was expected to quickly sign the measure, which marked the first time since he took office and Democrats won unified control of Congress that they have been able to enact a spending bill that reflects their priorities, including investing in climate resilience, public assistance programs and unlocking aid for projects contained in the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, called it “the strongest, boldest and most significant government funding package we’ve seen in a very long time.”

But to clear the way for passage, Democrats had to drop some priorities, most notably a White House request for more pandemic aid. Republicans objected to spending any new federal money on the coronavirus response, prompting Democrats first to whittle down the size of that package, and then to claw back funding from existing aid programs, including money for state governments, to pay for it.

But that strategy infuriated rank-and-file Democrats and governors in both parties, who balked at yanking promised state assistance, and leaders were forced to strip the aid from the package. They vowed to try again to pass it in the coming days, but Republican support was unclear, leaving in doubt the fate of the administration’s new pandemic plan.

“The bipartisan funding bill proves once more that members of both parties can come together to deliver results for the American people,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. But, she added, “we continue to call on Congress to provide the funds urgently needed to prevent severe disruptions to our Covid response.”

Republicans claimed credit for prodding Democrats to accept a $42 billion increase in military spending, bringing the total this year to $782 billion.

The negotiations, said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, “put us Republicans in the surreal position of having to push a commander in chief’s party into giving his own commanders the funding they need.”

“But over many Democrats’ objections, Republicans made sure this deal gets the job done for our armed forces,” he said.

Democrats hailed the $46 billion increase they secured for domestic programs, calling the $730 billion total the largest investment in four years.

“This bill invests in future prosperity, in our health, and reduces everyday costs for millions of Americans, such as child care, a college education, and heating and cooling costs,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the Appropriations Committee.

The last-minute scuffles reflected the arduous negotiations over the package, which dragged out more than five months past the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year that it is supposed to fund. To secure Republican support, Democrats agreed to go above the administration’s request for Pentagon spending and maintain a series of longstanding restrictions on federal money that they had hoped to remove, including the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for most abortions.

The package provides $145 billion to invest in new aircraft, ships and other vehicles, including 13 new Navy vessels, a dozen F/A-18 Super Hornets and 85 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. It also provides a 2.7 percent pay raise for all 2.1 million uniformed service members as well as the approximately 750,000 civilian employees in the Defense Department.

Even without the emergency aid package, Democrats secured additional funds for pandemic preparedness. That includes $745 million, an increase of $148 million, for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and $845 million, an increase of $140 million, for the Strategic National Stockpile, an emergency medical reserve intended to guard against infectious disease and bioterrorism threats.

Democrats also won increases for maternal and child health programs, tribal programs, public education and programs addressing mental health crises.

And Congress agreed to direct millions of dollars toward its own employees and support of the Capitol complex. The U.S. Capitol Police will receive $602.5 million, an increase of $87 million, to help expand its ranks after the Jan. 6 riot, while House congressional offices will see their budgets expand 21 percent, the largest increase since 1996, to try to stem the drain of institutional knowledge and prevent staff from seeking better pay off Capitol Hill.

Because the package is one of the few must-pass bills remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers seized on the opportunity to attach an array of additional priorities. Most notably, the bill includes a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a law aimed at preventing domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault that lapsed in 2019. Mr. Biden helped create the law as a senator in 1994, and a bipartisan group of senators had recently unveiled a deal on an expanded version.

The legislation also includes $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which had been held up in the Senate because of objections from Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. And it would close a loophole to ensure that makers of flavored e-cigarettes can no longer sidestep the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to regulate products derived from tobacco.

To push the package through the Senate, lawmakers had to navigate a series of objections from conservative Republicans, who complained that they had little time to examine the legislation and pushed to prioritize the emergency aid to Ukraine.

“It’s hard to express my anger and frustration,” said Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, as Democrats blocked his effort to pass the emergency aid for Ukraine without the $1.5 trillion to fund the government. “What in the hell are we doing here?”

Like other budget hawks, Mr. Scott also derided the return of earmarks, which allow lawmakers in both parties to direct money toward projects in their states or districts. But lawmakers rejected an amendment, offered by Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, that would have stripped those projects, now rebranded with stricter guardrails, from the package.

“That’s what this is about — politics,” said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, defending the package. He warned that Mr. Scott was risking a shutdown by seeking to change the spending measure.

“You can be unhappy with the” legislation, he added, “but the fact of the matter is, it has been negotiated over the last year by Democrats and Republicans.”

Before passing the sprawling measure, lawmakers also voted down additional Republican amendments, including a measure to prevent funding from going toward coronavirus vaccine mandates and an amendment providing disaster relief for Louisiana for recovery for hurricane damage.

Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, instead called for a separate disaster aid bill to be passed in the future. Any changes to the spending package would have forced another House vote and risked a government shutdown.

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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