U.S. Senate to launch debate on $1.66 trillion government funding bill

WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress moved forward with a $1.66 trillion government funding bill, struggling to pass a measure that includes record military spending before temporary funding runs out Friday.

The total funding proposed by the sweeping bill released early Tuesday is up from about $1.5 trillion the year before.

It includes other measures agreed to by negotiators from both parties, including a ban on the use of TikTok on government-owned devices and clarification of Congress’s role in certifying elections, an attempt to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 violence 2021.

Leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives aim to pass the 4,155-page bill and send it to Democratic President Joe Biden by the end of the week to ensure there is no disruption to government operations.

“We will begin this process today,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, referring to votes that could take place Tuesday on procedural steps that would clear the way for passage by Friday.

A failure could trigger a partial government shutdown starting Saturday, just before Christmas, and possibly lead to a months-long standoff after Republicans take control of the House on Jan. 3, breaking Biden’s Democrats’ grip on both chambers of Congress.

“From funding for nutrition programs and housing assistance, to home energy costs and college affordability, our bipartisan, bicameral, omnibus appropriations bill invests directly in helping the American people from the burden of inflation,” Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a statement.

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Included in the bill is $44.9 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine and NATO allies and $40.6 billion to help communities across the United States recovering from natural and other disasters.

Ukraine’s funds will be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as for replenishment of US equipment sent to Kiev. It also includes funding to prepare for and respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict with Ukraine.

That money would be on top of the record $858 billion in military spending for the year, up from last year’s $740 billion and also exceeding Biden’s request.

On the non-defense side of the ledger, the bill’s negotiators have set funding at $800 billion, an increase of $68 billion over the previous year.


Democrats and Republicans alike had sought to cram as many legislative wish-list items as possible into the “omnibus” bill that funds the government through the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2023, without derailing the entire package.

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This was the second year in a row that Congress included funding for hundreds of largely unrelated projects requested by individual lawmakers. Congress abandoned such “ear tags” a decade ago after a series of corruption scandals, but has brought them back in recent years as a way to build legislative buy-in for spending bills.

Among the most significant additions is the bipartisan Electoral Count Act, which overhauls and clarifies the congressional certification process for presidential elections.

Democrats and many Republicans see the measure as crucial to avoiding a repeat of the chaos that erupted nearly two years ago, when a mob of Donald Trump supporters attacked the Capitol building in an attempt to overturn Biden’s victory.

US lawmakers also included a proposal to bar federal employees from using the Chinese app TikTok on state-owned devices. And they backed a proposal to lift a looming deadline imposing a new safety standard for modern cockpit alarms for two new versions of Boeing Co’s ( BA.N ) 737 MAX planes.

Boeing and aviation unions lobbied to include that provision, while safety advocates — including relatives of those who died in the 737 MAX plane crash — pushed back hard.

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Other provisions ranged from additional funding for the U.S. Capitol Police to a measure supported by Maine’s delegation delaying new rules aimed at protecting the endangered sand whale, a victory for lobstermen in the state.

Measures left out include legislation that would have granted citizenship to “Dreamer” immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.

Advocates for criminal justice reform also came away largely empty-handed after a compromise measure that would have dramatically narrowed the sentencing gap between crack cocaine and powder cocaine collapsed.

The cannabis industry also suffered a setback after a closely watched measure that would have strengthened banking regulations for legal marijuana businesses was ruled out.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Gram Slattery in Washington, additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington and Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bengaluru; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Gram Slattery

Thomson Reuters

Washington-based correspondent covering campaigns and Congress. Previously posted in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago, Chile, and has reported extensively throughout Latin America. Co-winner of Reuters Journalist of the Year Award 2021 in the corporate coverage category for a series on corruption and fraud in the oil industry. He was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College.


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