By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders unveiled a $1.7 trillion spending package early Tuesday that includes another large round of aid to Ukraine, a nearly 10% boost in defense spending and roughly $40 billon to assist communities across the country recovering from drought, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The bill includes about $772.5 billion for non-defense discretionary programs and $858 billion in defense funding.
Lawmakers are working to stuff in as many priorities as they can into what is likely to be the last major bill of the current Congress. They are racing to complete passage of the bill before a midnight Friday deadline or face the prospect of a partial government shutdown going into the Christmas holiday. Lawmakers leading the negotiations released the details of the bill shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday.
The U.S. has provided about $68 billion in previous rounds of military, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. President Joe Biden has requested more than $37 billion more. Congress is going further with Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, saying the spending package includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine.
“Finalizing the omnibus is critical, absolutely critical for supporting our friends in Ukraine,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell has warned that if the fiscal year 2023 spending measure fails to gain bipartisan support this week, he would seek another short-term patch into next year, guaranteeing that the new Republican majority in the House would get to shape the package.
Leahy argued against that approach in releasing the bill saying, “the choice is clear. We can either do our jobs and fund the government, or we can abandon our responsibilities without a real path forward.”
Despite the warning, McConnell framed the longer-term spending bill as a victory for the GOP, even as many will undoubtedly vote against it. He said Republicans were successful in increasing defense spending far beyond Biden’s request while scaling back some of the increase Biden wanted for domestic spending.
“The Congress is rejecting the Biden administration’s vision and doing the exact opposite,” McConnell said.
The bill’s unveiling was delayed by haggling over language related to location of the FBI’s future headquarters. Maryland lawmakers have argued that ensuring predominately Black communities get their fair share of federal investments should be more thoroughly considered as part of the selection process. They are advocating for building the headquarters at one of two sites in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.
In September, the General Services Administration issued a site selection plan based on five criteria, the most heavily weighted at 35% was proximity to the FBI training academy in Quantico, Virginia. Advancing equity was weighted at 15%.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said at a recent forum that a Biden executive order early in his administration emphasized that the issue of racial equity is not just an issue for any one department, but it has to be the business of the whole government.
“I would submit that the GSA and the FBI clearly haven’t gotten the message, given the low weight they’ve given to this factor,” Van Hollen said.
A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations said Schumer worked to incorporate language in the spending bill ensuring the GSA administrator conduct “separate and detailed consultations” with lawmakers representing the Maryland and Virginia sites to get their perspectives.
Lawmakers are nearing completion of the 2023 spending package nearly three months late. It was supposed to be finished by last Oct. 1, when the government’s fiscal year began.
The last time Congress enacted all its spending bills by then was in 1996, when the Senate finished its work on Sept. 30, the very last day of the budget year. Then-President Bill Clinton signed it that same day.
The Senate is expected to vote on the spending bill first where support from at least 10 Republican senators will be needed to pass it before the measure is considered by the House. As has been the case with recent catchall spending bills, lawmakers voiced concerns about passing legislation containing thousands of pages on short notice.
“We still haven’t seen a single page of the Pelosi-Schumer spending bill, and they’re expecting us to pass it by the end of this week,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. “It’s insane.”
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