WASHINGTON—The House passed a $1.5 trillion spending bill that includes emergency aid for Ukraine, after Democratic leaders stripped out a contentious Covid-19 aid provision that would have clawed back states’ unused coronavirus money to fund the proposal.
The decision to remove the $15.6 billion in Covid-19 aid was a dramatic setback for both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who negotiated the plan only to see many rank-and-file Democrats reject it, and President Biden, whose administration originally asked for $22.5 billion to fund vaccines, treatments and research and now will get nothing.
Lawmakers released the more than 2,700-page omnibus spending package early on Wednesday, giving lawmakers just hours to read it. To pass the House, leadership divided the bill into two parts: The defense portion of the bill passed in a 361-69 vote, and the nondefense portion of the bill passed in a 260-171 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate.
The package, which funds the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year and also provides $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine, comes after months of negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders. Roughly half of the funds for Ukraine is allocated for humanitarian and economic aid and the other half for defense in Ukraine as well as U.S. allies in the Baltics and Central and Eastern Europe.
Mrs. Pelosi, after deliberating for several hours with upset lawmakers, announced Wednesday afternoon that the Covid-19 funding would be removed and lawmakers would proceed with the omnibus bill. She cited resistance within her own caucus to the provision, which would offset the new Covid-19 funding with previously approved but unspent coronavirus relief funds from some states.
“You’re telling Noah about the flood. I didn’t get what I wanted in this bill,” Mrs. Pelosi said, emphasizing that any deal would need bipartisan support to get through both chambers of Congress.
“Let’s grow up about this. We are in a legislative process. We have a deadline,” she said.
A White House official said Congress needed to approve new Covid funding to avoid dire consequences, including a decline in testing capacity and a winddown in funding for healthcare coverage and treatments in coming months.
“Failing to take action now will have severe consequences for the American people,” the official said.
Republicans, citing the trillions of dollars already spent on coronavirus-related aid packages since 2020, had opposed allocating more money for the pandemic until earlier funding was accounted for. Negotiators sought to capture money that had been appropriated but not spent, but some Democratic lawmakers said they felt blindsided by the Covid-19 provision.
The $15.6 billion for Covid-19 aid was intended to prepare for future variants or spikes in cases by allowing the government to purchase supplies of monoclonal antibodies, oral antivirals and vaccines before shortages arise. The spending bill also called for the return of $15.7 billion that was appropriated in previous coronavirus response bills to the Treasury.
“We’ve got a job to do, We’ve got to pass this bill and that’s what we want to do today,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D., Calif.), the vice chair of the Democratic Conference, about the decision to remove coronavirus funding.
Since most bills require 60 votes to proceed in the 50-50 Senate, it is unlikely the coronavirus funding could pass Congress without being tied to a must-pass piece of legislation like the omnibus. Still, House Democrats introduced a stand-alone Covid bill late Wednesday, proposing $15.6 billion in spending, partially offset by $8.6 billion in unused coronavirus funds but without any clawbacks from state and local governments. After initially planning to vote on it Wednesday night, the matter was pushed to next week, according to aides.
A number of Democrats from states that would be forced to give up money complained to House leadership, with some gathering in Mrs. Pelosi’s office in the hopes of coming to a compromise. While some Republicans were expected to vote in support of the legislation, the numbers weren’t known. Democrats have a narrow majority and can only lose five votes without GOP support.
“I vehemently oppose efforts to snatch back the lifesaving resources we need to fully and equitably recover from this pandemic,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D., Mo.), whose home state would have money repurposed.
Earlier in the day, Mrs. Pelosi defended the arrangement, saying it was needed to reach a deal with GOP negotiators. Some Democrats were baffled by the last-minute setback.
“What should be a slam dunk for Democrats as the party of science and public health has become yet another intraparty battle—and one that leaves the nation more vulnerable to future surges,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D., Mass.), co-chair of the Global Vaccination Caucus.
Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy objected to the rescission of any coronavirus money appropriated to state and local governments. In a letter to Congress on Tuesday, they said such a move would create a “bad precedent in which state and local governments can no longer count on commitments made from one law to the next.”
Democrats had planned to pass the omnibus around midday Wednesday before heading to their party retreat in Philadelphia later in the day. The Senate would then debate the legislation and vote on it this week. But the fight over the Covid-19 funding upset that tight timeline.
“Democrats dropped the bill that’s a thousand pages in the middle of the night,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.).
The large spending bill is expected to take several days to work its way through Congress, and current government funding runs out at 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday. To address this, House lawmakers late Wednesday approved in a voice vote a stopgap bill to fund the government through March 15 to avoid a lapse in funding that would lead to a partial shutdown.
The package would appropriate $730 billion in nondefense funding, a $46 billion increase over fiscal year 2021 and the largest in four years. The spending package appropriates $782 billion in defense funding—an increase of $42 billion over fiscal year 2021.
Lawmakers unified over providing the aid to Ukraine as the civilian toll caused by the Russian invasion mounted in recent days. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the U.S. Congress for more equipment, specifically planes. Part of the Ukrainian aid funding allows the president to transfer $3 billion in defense equipment to Ukraine and other U.S. allies.
Also on Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to ban Russian oil imports, even after Mr. Biden decided to move forward with a ban using his own executive authority.
The legislation will also reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, after senators came to a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize the legislation after it expired in 2019. It provides funding for prosecutions of domestic violence crimes, as well as for shelters and other programs to aid victims of abuse.
Lawmakers also reached a deal to reauthorize the EB-5 visa program allowing foreign investors to apply for green cards after investing in U.S. real estate or other projects. The program lapsed last year over a push to make its criteria stricter.
The legislation includes a $675 million budget increase for the Internal Revenue Service, putting the agency’s budget at $12.6 billion. That is below what House Democrats had wanted, and it is separate from the Biden administration’s attempt in the stalled Build Back Better bill to double the agency’s size over the next decade and beef up tax enforcement. Still, the IRS will get money specifically dedicated to reducing processing backlogs, which have left millions of people still waiting for refunds from returns they filed last year.
—Teresa Mettela contributed to this article.
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8