Monday, August 15, 2022

House poised to pass Biden’s $1.5 trillion budget after Pelosi beats back far-left revolt

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House Democrats passed President Biden’s $1.5 trillion bipartisan budget deal Wednesday, which includes emergency aid to Ukraine and billions in congressional pet projects via legislative earmarks, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi staved off a last-minute rebellion from her party’s far-left flank. 

To expedite passage, Mrs. Pelosi allowed lawmakers to vote on the domestic funding provisions within the bill separately from defense spending.

“This bipartisan agreement will help us address many of the major challenges we face at home and abroad,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. 

By a margin of 260-to-171, the House approved the domestic funding provisions totaling $730 billion. Overall, 39 Republicans joined with nearly every Democrat to secure passage.

The $782 billion defense portion of the budget, meanwhile, passed by a much larger margin. In total, 155 Republicans voted with every single Democrat in favor. Most lawmakers cited the inclusion of nearly $14 billion in aid to Ukraine as their reason. 

“We must continue to unite around our shared values of liberty and democracy in the face of Vladimir Putin and his evil attacks that are destroying innocent people’s lives and livelihoods. Freedom must prevail,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican who voted in favor of the defense provisions but opposed the domestic spending ones. “The non-security package includes a reckless amount of spending.” 

Lawmakers also passed via voice vote a short-term funding bill meant to keep the government afloat past Friday. The short-term funding bill, which runs until early next week, is only meant to serve as a contingency in case the Senate cannot pass the larger bipartisan budget in time.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has pledged to move the package before Friday, but procedural hangups remain. 

“This spending bill, comes at a consequential moment,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. “War in Europe has focused the energies of Congress into getting something done and getting it done fast.”

House Democrats paved the way for the budget by agreeing to strip out $15 billion in aid for coronavirus vaccines and testing centers. The agreement was made after progressive Democrats raised objections because the funding was set to come from clawing back unspent money already appropriated to states for the pandemic.

“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” said Mrs. Pelosi.

 The flare-up over the COVID-19 funding underscored broader issues surrounding the budget.

Republican lawmakers, in particular, criticized not only the way in which the $1.5 trillion legislation was negotiated but also Mrs. Pelosi’s timeline for passage. They noted that the speaker unveiled the bill at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday before House Democrats scheduled a vote later in the day.

Pelosi’s minions released a 2,700 [plus] page omnibus spending bill after midnight that we will consider today,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican.

Clocking in at 2,471 pages, the bill includes funding provisions for every department of the federal government as well as the legislative branch. It’s accompanied by more than 2,413-pages of explanatory notes.

Budget experts at the Heritage Foundation say that “an above-average college student can read about 13 pages of technical material an hour.” They note that by those standards it would take lawmakers more than 396 hours to read and understand the full bill.

Mrs. Pelosi gave lawmakers less than 24 hours to review before voting. 

“Speaker Pelosi famously supports passing bills to find out what’s in the bills,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, Ohio Republican. “This 2,741-page spending bill has become a bipartisan tradition.”

Despite the way it was crafted, the $1.5 trillion budget bill poses a major victory for Mr. Biden and the Democratic agenda simply because the federal government is operating with funding levels approved by Congress under President Trump.

Abiding by Trump-era budget levels has hamstrung efforts to move Mr. Biden’s agenda through the federal bureaucracy. By inking a budget deal with Republicans, the White House will have the first real chance to make its imprint on the federal bureaucracy outside of issuing regulations and making political appointments.

Among other things, the budget will spend $11 billion to construct new affordable housing; reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a measure long championed by Democrats to prevent domestic violence; boost overall domestic spending by 6.7% to $730 billion, much of which will go to social welfare programs; increase the budget of the Internal Revenue Service by $675 million to bolster tax enforcement; and provide $15 billion for military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its neighboring NATO allies.

The bill also includes a 21% increase for lawmakers’ office budgets within the House, boosting the spending on office budgets by more than $134 million. The increase brings the total funding of House offices to more than $774 million — the highest since 1996.

The Senate, meanwhile, is poised to receive a $1.1 billion boost for “salaries and operations.” Of that sum, $7 million is earmarked for paying interns, while the rest goes to bolstering the office and committee budgets of individual senators.

Mr. Biden’s budget will also be the first within at least a decade to include billions in earmarks, which are discretionary spending measures inserted into the bill at the behest of individual lawmakers. Earmarks were initially banned in 2010 after the GOP took control of the House. Even after Mrs. Pelosi won the majority back in 2018, Republicans kept the prohibition in place.

Last year, when Democrats solidified narrow control of Congress they brought back the practice. In Mr. Biden’s first budget, both Democrats and Republicans seized on the tactic as a way to bring federal tax dollars back home.

Alaska Republicans, for instance, have inserted a provision into the bill appropriating $10 million to tear down an abandoned hotel in the city of Fairbanks. Rhode Island Democrats, meanwhile, have secured $1.6 million for Roger Williams Univerity to develop an “equitable growth of shellfish aquaculture industry” in the state.

A cadre of liberal lawmakers had threatened to derail speedy consideration of the budget bill over the $15 billion COVID-19 funding provision. Specifically, far-left Democrats said it was unfair to claw back coronavirus funding that had already been appropriated for states in prior pandemic relief bills.

“Some of that money is being clawed back to use for COVID funding, but that money has already been appropriated by our state legislature, and it’s not like it’s unused funding,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat who chairs the 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Mrs. Pelosi attempted to allay those concerns, saying that while some of the initial coronavirus money would be clawed back, states will get “at least 91 percent of the state funds that they expected to receive.” The argument failed to assuage liberals, who were upset at the way the budget deal was negotiated with Republicans.

“This deal was cut behind closed doors,” said Rep. Angie Craig, Minnesota Democrat who objected to moving the bill forward if the coronavirus aid remained intact. “Members found out this morning, this is completely unacceptable.”

Given that Congress must pass a budget by Friday or risk a government shutdown, Mrs. Pelosi acquiesced after liberals stalled the bill long enough to prevent House Democrats from attending the first day of a party retreat in Pennsylvania.

“We must proceed with the [budget] today, which includes emergency funding for Ukraine and urgent funding to meet the needs of America’s families,” the speaker said.

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