Senate Passes $1.7 Trillion Bill to Fund the Government, Aid Ukraine

The U.S. Senate passed a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill Thursday that will fund federal agencies through September of next year and provide an additional round of economic and military aid to Ukraine a day following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s poignant address to a joint session of Congress. 

The 4,155-page bill includes $858 billion for defense and would fund federal agencies and around $772.5 billion for domestic programs through the end of the fiscal year. The bill passed by a vote of 68-29 and will now go to the House for a final vote before it can move on to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. 

“This is one of the most significant appropriations packages we have done in a very long time,” said Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “The range of people it helps is large and deep.”

Lawmakers were speeding to get the bill approved before a partial government shutdown set to begin at midnight on Friday. They were motivated to complete the task before wintry conditions, and a deep freeze left them stranded in Washington for the holidays. Many legislators also want to lock in government funding before a new Republican-controlled House begins in the new year, making it more difficult to compromise on spending. 

Zelenskyy spoke about the importance of the United States aid to his country for its defense against Russia’s war on the country. The measure will provide $45 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military assistance for the damaged nation and NATO allies, even more than was requested by President Biden. This raises the total aid given to Ukraine to more than $100 billion. 

“Your money is not charity,” said Zelenskyy to lawmakers and viewers. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

Lawmakers disagreed over which amendments would be voted upon to lock down a final vote rapidly. The impasses could have prevented the bill’s passage before the Friday midnight deadline. However, negotiations overnight led to a senatorial breakthrough when they gathered early Thursday morning to work on over a dozen amendments before taking a final vote. 

The House can only take up the bill on Friday morning. Although it’s expected to pass, Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the chamber would also work to ensure government services continue by approving stopgap spending legislation before the bill is signed into law. 

Schumer, McConnell both supported bill

Schumer and Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell supported the bill for different reasons. McConnell cited the almost 10% boost in defense spending included in the bill, which will give the Armed Forces the certainty and funding needed to ensure the country’s security. 

“The world’s greatest military will get the funding increase it needs, outpacing inflation,” McConnell said. “Meanwhile, non-defense, non-veterans spending will come in below the rate of inflation for a real-dollar cut.”

McConnell faced Republican pushback from many who resent being forced to vote on such a massive package with very little time before a possible shutdown and the Christmas holiday. 

“There has not been enough time for a single person to read this bill. The bill and process ignores soaring inflation, rising interest rates, and our ballooning debt of $31 trillion,” said Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. “Enough is enough.”

Eighteen Republican senators joined Democrats to vote for the bill. 

Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is retiring after serving as the current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and in the Senate for 48 years. He negotiated the bill for months along with Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, who was elected in 1986 and is also retiring. 

“What a capstone to a brilliant career,” said Schumer. 

The bill also contains around $40 billion in emergency spending in the United States, primarily to assist communities recovering from hurricanes, drought, and other natural disasters. 

Scores of policy changes not related to the spending lawmakers sought to include in what will be the last significant bill of the Congress, or they will have to begin from scratch next year in a Congress divided where Republicans will be in the majority in the House. 

One of the most significant examples was a revision of federal election law that focuses on preventing any future presidential candidates or presidents from trying to overturn the results of an election.