Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is urging her troops to get behind a massive bill to fund the government through most of next year, touting new funding for Democratic priorities and citing an urgency to get the package to President Biden’s desk before a potential shutdown at week’s end.
In a letter to fellow Democrats, the outgoing Speaker cited a number of Democratic victories in the package, including provisions to hike nutrition funding for low-income children, provide a huge increase in money for veteran health care and lend assistance to the victims of natural disasters around the country.
“It is urgent and necessary that we enact this omnibus package, so that we may keep government open and delivering for America’s families,” Pelosi wrote.
Uniting House Democrats behind the proposal could be crucial, as House Republicans have been highly critical of both the substance of the funding package and the process that led to it.
Republicans are set to take control of the lower chamber in January, and they’ve been urging GOP senators to oppose a long-term spending bill in favor of a short-term patch that would grant the incoming House Republican majority more leverage in the negotiations.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is vying for the Speaker’s gavel next year and needs the support of conservatives to get it, has joined the chorus of critics, breaking with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is supporting the legislation, and putting more pressure on Pelosi and Democrats to rally behind it. With a thin House majority, they can likely afford few defections.
Highlighting those dynamics, only nine House Republicans had voted earlier this month for a one-week stopgap bill to prevent a shutdown last Friday. And a coalition of conservatives is already warning of retaliation against GOP senators who support the package — a tactic McCarthy quickly endorsed.
“When I’m Speaker, their bills will be dead on arrival in the House if this nearly $2T monstrosity is allowed to move forward over our objections and the will of the American people,” McCarthy tweeted.
Released just after 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, the $1.7 trillion spending package — known in Washington as an omnibus — would fund the federal agencies through the remainder of fiscal 2023, which runs through September. Without congressional action, large parts of the government are scheduled to shutter at the end of the day on Friday.
The legislation arrived after weeks of tense, post-midterm negotiations between three top appropriators: Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.), a close Pelosi ally. The absence of DeLauro’s counterpart, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), reflects the opposition of House GOP leaders to the process.
The package features $858 billion for defense programs — almost $80 billion over current levels — and $773 billion for other domestic initiatives, including $119 billion for veterans health care, a 22 percent increase over this year’s spending.
Pelosi and other Democratic supporters were quick to promote the bump in health care spending as well as other provisions they secured as part of the talks. At the top of that list was new medical funding for low-income families under Medicaid, an increase in money for mental health services, and almost $45 billion in new assistance — both military and humanitarian — to help Ukraine weather Russia’s long-running invasion.
Pelosi is also cheering the inclusion of the Electoral Count Act, which is designed to ensure the smooth and peaceful transfer of power between administrations — a bill that came as a direct response to President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat in 2020, and the rampage at the U.S. Capitol that followed.
That, Pelosi wrote, “will help thwart future attempts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power like we saw on January 6th.”
Still, the bipartisan nature of the package ensures that neither side gets everything it wants. And there were a number of Democratic priorities that were excluded from the legislation.
Among the most high-profile of those items were proposals to provide parity between defense and nondefense spending, allot more funding to fight COVID-19, grant new rights to young undocumented immigrants, and establish sentencing parity between crimes involving crack cocaine and its powder alternative.
Liberal groups are also decrying the absence of a bipartisan reform bill designed to rein in Big Tech monopolies. And environmentalists are howling that a provision aimed to helped lobster fisheries in the northeast will lead to the potential extinction of North Atlantic right whales, which are highly endangered.
“What a horrific legacy to leave to one’s grandchildren,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Pelosi, who has led the House Democrats for the last two decades, is the first to acknowledge that the package isn’t everything her party fought to achieve. But in her final weeks at the top of the party, she’s promoting the package as the last best chance for the Democrats to maximize their leverage before the House changes hands.
The omnibus, she said, would conclude a “most consequential” 117th Congress “on a strong note.”