- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 10, 2022

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer cut a deal with GOP holdouts on Thursday that cleared the way for passage of President Biden’s $1.5 trillion bill to fund the government and send aid to Ukraine.

The deal allowed Republicans to offer a series of amendments to the bill, most of which aim to strip out earmarks and defund Mr. Biden’s vaccine mandates. 

The GOP amendments are expected to fail in party-line votes. 

“If we could boil down this week to three words in the Senate, they would be productive, bipartisan, successful,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. “In a few moments the Senate will pass the strongest, boldest, and most significant government funding package we’ve seen in a long time.” 

A cadre of GOP lawmakers attempted to stall the bill long enough to miss a Friday deadline and cause a government shutdown. The Republicans promised to use an arsenal of legislative procedures to block any attempt by Mr. Schumer to expedite the chamber’s Byzantine legislative process.

The $1.5 trillion budget bill is a major victory for Mr. Biden and the Democrat-run Congress simply because it puts their stamp on the operation of the federal government. For the past year, the federal government continued to operate at funding levels set when President Donald Trump was in the White House.

The budget will spend $11 billion to construct new affordable housing. It boosts overall domestic spending by 6.7% to $730 billion, much of which will go to social welfare programs. The bill also increases the budget of the Internal Revenue Service by $675 million, much of which will be used to crack down on tax scofflaws. 

One of the bill’s major selling points is that includes nearly $14 billion for military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its neighboring NATO allies. 

“We’re keeping our promise to support Ukraine as they fight for their lives against the evil Vladimir Putin,” said Mr. Schumer

The Republican holdouts did not have the votes to kill the budget outright, but the threat of delay triggering a government shutdown, even if temporary, was enough to win concessions.  

GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, in particular, refused to allow the budget to move forward without a chance to challenge the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act that was included in the bill. Other Republicans, like Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, objected to the nearly $8 billion in earmarks stuffed into the bill by members of both parties. 

“While inflation hits a historic high today, Congress is pushing through one of the largest spending bills in history with $1.5 trillion of your dollars going toward politician pet projects,” said Mr. Braun. 

Within the Senate, unanimous consent is needed to expedite consideration of a bill, meaning that all 100 senators must agree on moving forward. Generally, Senate leaders negotiate the number of amendments and time allotted for debate before unanimous consent is offered. If even one lawmaker objects, the process is sidelined and normal order must be followed.

The flare-up underscores lawmakers’ misgivings about how the budget was put together. Although negotiated in a bipartisan fashion, the full 2,741-page bill was not released until Wednesday at midnight. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, gave lawmakers less than 24-hours before forcing a vote in the lower chamber.

“It makes my blood boil, and should infuriate every American to see how broken Washington is and the consequences of this poisonous status quo on hardworking families,” said Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who attempted to delay the budget until economists could study its impact on inflation. 

GOP lawmakers said that it was impossible to properly review the entire budget before being forced to vote on it. They cited budget experts at the Heritage Foundation who said that “an above-average college student can read about 13 pages of technical material an hour.”

By those standards, it would take lawmakers more than 396 hours to read the full bill. 

“It’s the same thing that happen,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican. “Schumer and McConnell and Pelosi and McCarthy sit down and slap something together and tell us to take it or leave it.” 

The bill also includes a 21% increase for lawmakers’ office budgets within the House, boosting the spending on office budgets by more than $134 million. The increase brings the total funding of House offices to more than $774 million —the highest since 1996.

The Senate, meanwhile, is poised to receive a $1.1 billion boost for “salaries and operations.” Of that sum, $7 million is earmarked for paying interns, while the rest goes to bolstering the office and committee budgets of individual senators.

Mr. Biden’s budget is also the first within at least a decade to include billions in earmarks, which are discretionary spending measures inserted into the bill at the behest of individual lawmakers. Earmarks were initially banned in 2010 after the GOP took control of the House. After Mrs. Pelosi won the majority back in 2018, Republicans kept the prohibition in place.

Last year, when Democrats retained control of Congrees with the thinnest of majorities, they brought back the practice. In this first budget under Mr. Biden, both Democrats and Republicans seized on earmarks to bring federal tax dollars back home. 

Alaska Republicans, for instance, have inserted a provision into the bill appropriating $10 million to tear down an abandoned hotel in the city of Fairbanks. Rhode Island Democrats, meanwhile, have secured $1.6 million for Roger Williams University to develop an “equitable growth of shellfish aquaculture industry” in the state. 

Mr. Schumer, in particular, was a prime beneficiary of earmarks, pulling in more than $258 million for his constituents in New York. 

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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