Sprawling $1.5 trillion appropriations package nears finish line

The House is set to vote Wednesday on an omnibus spending bill that would funnel more aid to Ukraine, provide another round of COVID-19 medical assistance and fund the government through September.

The long-awaited package for the current fiscal year, which is nearly half over, would provide about $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending for all federal departments and agencies. It also resolves a monthslong partisan standoff over how to divvy up the budget pie between defense and nondefense programs.

Defense-related spending would rise by $42 billion, or 5.6 percent, over last year’s level, to $782 billion. Nondefense spending would increase by $46 billion, or 6.7 percent, to $730 billion, according to a summary from House Appropriations Committee Democrats.

Those increases come close to meeting the Republican demand for “parity” between defense and nondefense spending, which had stalled negotiations for months. In the end, Republicans won more generous boosts for the Pentagon and other national security accounts than the earlier fiscal 2022 defense authorization law envisioned. And Democrats were forced to come down off of their initial nondefense spending bills in the House, which promised 16 percent increases on average.

The package combines regular appropriations with $13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine — a priority pushed by both parties. And it includes $15.6 billion in additional funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic — paid for by tapping unspent money from previous relief laws.

A late push from governors of both parties kept the cuts to prior state and local aid limited to $7 billion, with the remaining “rescissions” spread around to various other pandemic-era programs that left some money on the table.

And the measure includes billions of dollars worth of “earmarks” for the first time in over a decade since the practice was effectively banned. House lawmakers secured over $4.2 billion in local projects benefiting their constituents, with Democrats receiving nearly 60 percent of those funds and accounting for nearly 75 percent of the individual earmarks.

Senators secured many of their own, including some big legacy projects for retiring members like top GOP appropriator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who won inclusion of earmarks such as $60 million for the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile, $32 million for dredging in Mobile Harbor and $100 million for improvements at Mobile Downtown Airport.

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