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U.S. House advances $1.66 trillion funding bill as deadline nears

2022-12-23T18:06:03Z

The U.S. Capitol is seen as Congress continues work on passing a $1.66 trillion government funding bill in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday advanced a $1.66 trillion bill that provides record military funding, sends emergency aid to Ukraine and keeps all federal agencies operating through Sept. 30, 2023.

By a party-line vote of 215-206, the House approved rules for debating the spending bill, putting it a step closer to final approval.

Passage of the Senate-approved measure in the Democratic-controlled House would send it to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

With a major storm bearing down on much of the central and eastern United States, and with many lawmakers already in their home districts for the Christmas holiday, business was being conducted in a sparsely-attended chamber. Under House rules that were revised early in the COVID-19 pandemic, members are allowed to cast votes virtually.

Conservative House Republicans went on the attack at the start of House debate, criticizing the overall cost of the bill which they said was riddled with wasteful spending that has stoked inflation in the United States.

The bill, of over 4,000 pages, was passed on Thursday in the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 68-29, with the support of 18 Senate Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy called the appropriations bill a “monstrosity” and “one of the most shameful acts” he has seen in Congress. McCarthy was present when a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, seeking to hang Trump’s vice president.

McCarthy, who is seeking to become the next speaker of the House, has been working hard to shore up support from his most conservative Republican rank-and-file, who contend that he has not yet nailed down enough support to win that election on the first ballot on Jan. 3.

Far-right Republicans want deep domestic spending cuts that this “omnibus” spending bill does not accomplish.

After weeks of haggling and threats of government shutdowns, Congress aims to complete one of its most basic duties: appropriating money to keep the bureaucracy humming, three months after a new fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

National security concerns prompted legislators to include a provision to ban the use of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on federal government devices.

While many House Republicans said they preferred to simply legislate another temporary funding bill extending into early next year, the massive full-year measure takes a heavy load off of Republican leaders who will take control of the chamber on Jan. 3 as a result of November’s midterm elections.

That will allow House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to avoid a fierce fight at the start of the new year and focus on his run for the powerful position of House speaker.

While the majority of his caucus supports him, a vocal minority of conservative Republicans have voiced opposition to his candidacy, a concern since he needs a majority of the 435-member House to support him.

Democrats are likely to support their newly selected leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, to be speaker in a mostly symbolic effort.

Emotions were raw among House members still in Washington.

“You all are railroading this $1.7 trillion bill full of garbage without any regard for what it’s costing Americans,” Republican Representative Tim Burchett said in a speech.

Like several Republicans, Burchett also attacked the emergency aid for Ukraine embedded in the massive spending bill.

“Over $45 billion for Ukraine when Europe should be carrying the burden of these costs,” Burchett said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, shot back: “This sweeping package is anything but garbage,” adding, “it is in fact the essence of supporting our national security, our domestic security and the welfare of our people.”

The legislation would provide the Defense Department with a record $858 billion, up from $740 billion last year.

Around $800 billion would be designated for the array of non-military programs, $68 billion over fiscal 2022.

Ukraine would get $44.9 billion in new emergency U.S. aid. The debate in Congress over the bill was punctuated by a visit on Wednesday by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who thanked Americans for bolstering his country’s war effort against Russia and argued the U.S. funds were a good “investment.”

Other major spending items in the bill include over $27 billion for the victims of natural disasters, a major increase in funding for those struggling with drug addiction and funding to help carry major infrastructure projects made possible by a bill enacted in 2021.