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Congress Looks to Finish $1.5 Trillion Spending Bill With Ukraine Aid

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The House on Wednesday night passed a $1.5 trillion annual spending package that would keep the government funded through September and provide nearly $14 billion in aid for Ukraine and refugees fleeing the Russian invasion there.

To secure the necessary votes, though, House leaders were forced to strip $15.6 billion in pandemic funding from the bill after some Democrats objected to a deal that would have redirected that money from existing programs, including $7 billion promised to state governments as part of last year’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief law. The last-minute change leaves in doubt President Joe Biden’s Covid-response plans.

The House also passed a four-day stopgap extension of federal funding, a fallback measure meant to ensure that government operations can continue beyond the end of day Friday, when current funding is set to expire, while the Senate works to clear the larger omnibus spending bill.

Senate leaders reportedly want to pass the legislation before the week’s end, but the process faces delays as the result of a number of demands from GOP senators. “Members of GOP leadership say they are still hopeful that the Senate could pass the $1.5 trillion government funding deal, which also includes the Ukraine assistance, later Thursday,” The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. “But first they need to cut deals with GOP senators who are warning that they could slow down the massive legislation.”

Here are a few other takeaways about the spending bill:

The pandemic is no longer the top priority — and replenishing funding won’t be easy: The White House said it requested $22.5 billion in additional pandemic funding “to avoid severe disruptions to our Covid response.” But Republicans were skeptical about the need for new money, and the conflict over the funding and offsets “underscored the deep and persistent political divides over the pandemic, and the federal government’s role in responding to it,” writes Emily Cochrane at The New York Times. She adds that “it also demonstrated that as infections and deaths subside, Covid-19 is no longer the dominant priority in Washington.”

Democrats still plan to hold a separate vote on the $15.6 billion in pandemic funding — without the repurposing of state and local money. “That means the legislation isn’t fully paid for, and there are no plans as of now to find an offset to replace the $7 billion in state and local aid,” The Washington Post’s Rachel Roubein reports, citing a senior Democratic aide. “That’s a problem in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would have to support the measure.”

More Ukraine aid ahead: The spending package includes $13.6 billion in humanitarian and military aid in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with more money likely to be needed before long. Top lawmakers “view this bit of funding as the first of many tranches of emergency money to come,” The Washington Post’s Paul Kane notes:

“The question is a matter of when, not if, Congress has to go back to the well to provide more funding and, largely depending on Zelensky and his government’s fate, whether this exercise becomes a semiregular round of war funding similar to how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were funded — or, possibly, whether it becomes more of a secretly financed effort akin to how Congress propped up the mujahideen resistance against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s.”

Earmarks “are back with a vengeance”: After being banned for more than a decade, earmarks are back — and the spending package is loaded with more than 4,000 of them, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports, noting that the total “is still fewer than the 9,000 earmarks included in the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills that passed before House Republicans adopted an earmark ban after taking over the lower chamber in the 2010 midterm election.” Check out his story for more details. Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson adds that the omnibus bill includes more than $4.2 billion in earmarks for House lawmakers, with nearly 60% of that going to projects in Democrats’ districts.

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