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House passes $1.5 trillion government spending package, sends to Senate

The package, which awaits approval in the Senate, includes aid for Ukraine and substantial increases to domestic and defense spending.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Five months into the fiscal year and after several close calls with government shutdown deadlines, the House passed a full-year spending plan Wednesday, laying the foundation for Congress to fund the government long-term.

The whopping $1.5 trillion legislation, known as an omnibus, will authorize spending for the federal government and military through the end of the fiscal year and comes after months of fraught partisan negotiations that reached a resolution as Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine put greater urgency on the need for Congress to unite and dole out federal dollars for international aid.

Until now, Congress has relied entirely on short-term spending bills to keep the government open, preventing federal agencies from receiving additional funds for new programs and keeping all budget allocations at 2021 levels.

Government dollars are set to run out Friday at midnight and the package is now headed to the Senate for final passage. To avoid a shutdown as the 2,741-page bill moves through the Senate, the House also passed a short-term plan that will keep the lights on and federal agencies funded through March 15.

The package had a turbulent path to the House floor Wednesday after some Democrats raised objections about how a proposed new round of pandemic aid would have been paid for.

An early version of the bill would have doled out $15.6 billion in funding for vaccines, treatments and testing, a number Republicans agreed to only after Democrats promised some of the money would come from states that had not used all of their American Rescue Plan money.

Democrats from several of those states argued the funds already had planned uses at the local level, leading lawmakers to cut the pandemic aid from the spending package entirely to speed up its passage.

"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," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers Wednesday.

The House will consider Covid-19 funding that does not dip into state funds as a separate bill later this week, but it faces an uphill battle on its own.

The final version of the bipartisan legislation does include substantial wins for Democrats and Republicans, including a $13.6 billion aid package for Ukraine and the U.S.' European allies.

More than $4 billion of that aid will support the millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine amid the conflict and $6.7 billion will be used to send military resources to Ukraine and neighboring U.S. allies while also deploying American troops to Europe.

President Joe Biden had initially requested $10 billion in humanitarian, economic and military aid to Ukraine last week, but Congress' deal goes well beyond that as concerns about Russia's ongoing military attack on Ukraine mount.

The bipartisan deal gives legislative victories to Democrats who had pushed for greater commitments to at-home spending and Republicans who had urged the omnibus to ramp up military investments, providing $730 billion for domestic programs, a 6.7% increase from last year's budget, and $782 billion for defense spending, 5.6% more than last year.

The defense portion of the bill passed by a vote of 361-69 and the domestic spending portion moved on to the Senate by a vote of 260-171.

Domestic programs will get renewed investments through the package, including funding for child care, cancer research and larger Pell grant scholarships for college students.

The bill also gives U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services a boost in funding to address the backlog of immigration cases and visa applications.

One provision that had been a point of contention for Democrats made it into the final package. The Hyde amendment, a restriction traditionally included in the annual funding plan, bans federal money from going to abortions and was initially cut from the omnibus before being put back in after lengthy negotiations.

The final House bill also reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act, legislation that provided legal protections for women against domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.

The act expired in 2019 and the reauthorized version included in the omnibus would expand legal protections to transgender, Native American and immigrant women.

Under a notable portion of the law, tribal courts will have the power to investigate and prosecute sex crimes on tribal land committed by non-Native people. It also creates training and education programs on domestic violence and rape for police officers and people involved in the justice system.

Pelosi acknowledged that the omnibus bill included both policy wins and concessions that had to be made to forge bipartisan agreement.

"You're telling Noah about the flood. I didn't get what I wanted in the bill. So, I say to my members, 'Yeah, that's a negotiation. And that's the way it is. Look at what is in the bill and what it does for America's working families, what it does for Ukraine, what it does, that so much needs to be done, as opposed to what you don't like about the bill,'" Pelosi told reporters early Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Pelosi's sentiments about the compromises made to get the bipartisan legislation done.

"This compromise is not the bill that Republicans would have written on our own. But I am proud of the major concessions we have extracted from this all-Democrat government. The bipartisan product contains major wins for our national defense, for our friends in Ukraine, for the conscience rights of the American people, and for many other key priorities, and it keeps new left-wing poison pills out," McConnell said in letter to Republican lawmakers Wednesday.

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