The U.S. House of Representatives was poised to vote Wednesday, March 9 on a roughly $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package forged over months by Democratic and Republican negotiators. It was tweaked just this week to include additional defense funding and aid to Ukraine due to Russia’s ongoing invasion.
A disagreement, however, over how to fund a proposed $15.6 billion in additional COVID-19 relief money appeared to force Democratic leaders to withdraw that provision from the bill, delaying its final passage until potentially Wednesday night.
The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that is set to expire Friday, March 11.
The 2,741-page measure, which was finalized early Wednesday morning, would fund the government through the end of September. It includes $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine and Eastern European nations. For the first time in a decade, it also contains earmarks.
Negotiations on the package were slowed by Republican insistence that there be parity between the funding increases for defense and non-defense programs.
In the end, the GOP more or less achieved that goal with defense spending getting bumped to $782 billion, a 5.6 percent increase over FY 2021, while non-defense spending -- originally pegged for a 17 percent hike -- settled at $730 billion, a 6.7 percent increase.
In his opening statement at the morning's Rules Committee hearing on the rule to govern floor procedures for the omnibus, Ranking member Tom Cole (R-OK4) said those were critical gains for Republicans.
"While that no doubt included many worthy items, Republicans generally felt that 17 percent was excessive, particularly given the substantial needs on the defense side of the ledger," said Cole.
Rep. Cole said it was also critically important that Democrats dropped their attempt to remove the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions. It also includes the Weldon Amendment, which protects American doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals from participating in or providing abortions if they have a moral objection.
“The inclusion of these and other broadly popular provisions was and is an absolute necessity for this bill to have any chance at becoming law,” Rep. Cole said. “I am personally deeply grateful that they are included in this package.”
If the House passes the bill, the Senate would then have until Friday to do the same and get it to President Biden for his signature in order to beat the funding deadline.
The House was also planning to pass another very short-term extension, which would give the Senate until next Tuesday, March 15, in case it's unable to meet the Friday deadline.