(The Hill) – The House passed a sweeping $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package on Wednesday night to fund the government, hours after lawmakers scrapped billions in funding to combat the COVID-19 pandemic amid resistance from Democrats upset about plans to yank already allocated relief from states.
The last-minute revolt over the COVID-19 funding from Democrats angered over a GOP-demanded offset upended a delicately negotiated package between congressional leaders of both parties.
As part of those bipartisan negotiations, the House passage of the omnibus package, which funds the federal government through September, was split into two votes so that lawmakers could register specific support for the defense spending portions.
The House first voted 361-69 to back funding for the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and other national security priorities, and then 260-171, with one Democrat voting “present,” to adopt the provisions largely related to domestic programs.
Congress faces a time crunch to get the legislation to President Biden for his signature, since current federal funding expires this Friday.
Lawmakers also passed a stopgap measure by voice vote that lasts until next Tuesday to ensure that the Senate has enough time to clear the omnibus package without risking a government shutdown.
The omnibus package includes about $14 billion in emergency funding to boost humanitarian, security and economic assistance for Ukraine and central European allies in response to the Russian invasion — as lawmakers on both sides of the push for more support to Ukraine.
The legislation was delayed for several hours after a number of Democrats came out against plans to repurpose previously allocated COVID-19 funds from state governments to help finance federal pandemic response efforts.
“I’m not going to tolerate that. If they can pull that out, we might be able to move forward,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said before the bill moved to the floor while noting that her state would be affected by the plans.
Negotiators included more than $15 billion in COVID-19 supplemental funding in an earlier version of the package unveiled at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, after the White House last week called on lawmakers to authorize $22.5 billion to bolster federal coronavirus efforts.
A White House official warned Wednesday that there will be “dire” consequences from stripping the COVID-19 aid it requested from the package.
“Without additional COVID response resources, the results are dire: In March, testing capacity will decline; in April, the uninsured fund – which offers coverage of testing and treatments for tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance – will run out of money; and in May, America’s supply of monoclonal antibodies will run out. Simply put, failing to take action now will have severe consequences for the American people,” the White House official said.
Plans for new COVID-19 funding were met with fierce opposition from Republicans, who, in turn, demanded the spending be paid for and pressed for further information on relief that had already been allocated and gone unspent.
Some top Republicans indicated more openness to the supplemental funding after the Senate leaders signaled the aid would be offset through previously appropriated funds earlier this week. The push also came amid mounting pressure on both sides of the aisle to wrap up months of negotiations overspending, as lawmakers eyed the omnibus as a vehicle for emergency funding for Ukraine.
But a number of House Democrats fumed Wednesday morning after learning of the language making it into the 2,741-page bill text that reflected plans to pull previously allocated coronavirus relief, shortly before they were scheduled to vote on it before leaving town.
“This deal was cut behind closed doors. Members found out this morning, this is completely unacceptable,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), whose state is among the dozens that would be impacted by the plans, told reporters after leaving Pelosi’s office earlier on Wednesday.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told The Hill on Wednesday that some progressives were also upset by the plans, in addition to defense funding boosts outlined in the omnibus that exceeded President Biden’s request for the operations.
“A lot of us continued to be horrified that we just keep increasing military spending even beyond what President Biden asked for, which was already an increase,” Jayapal said, “and so I think you will see some progressive votes against the defense part of the question.”
“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 life-saving American Rescue Plan money away from our communities?” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), another progressive, said in a statement. “We cannot turn our backs on the progress this money is intended to fund.”
In lieu of including the COVID-19 funding in the omnibus package, Democratic leaders plan to set up a standalone vote next week on that funding without the controversial offset from state and local relief funds.
Democrats are touting the package for having the biggest increase to non-defense discretionary spending in four years, with historic funding boosts for education, science, research and development, as well as climate change.
Republicans have also lauded funding secured in the package, including the more than $780 billion set aside for the Department of Defense and other defense functions, as well as an 11 percent increase from the previous fiscal year for the Department of Homeland Security.
Senate negotiators are hopeful the package will pass by Friday. But without an agreement to speed up the bill’s passage, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said on Tuesday that it’s possible the Senate might not pass the omnibus until after Friday.
“There’s no reason why you couldn’t get it done by Friday. But if we need Saturday or Sunday, we’ll do it then,” he told The Hill on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll get it done.”
Peter Sullivan contributed.