ACROSS AMERICA — President Joe Biden has signed the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill that provides a substantial increase in spending for domestic and national security but also sends $13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.
Both parties scored political victories in the spending bill. Democrats were able to secure an agreement to increase domestic spending by 6.7 percent to $730 billion, while Republicans prevailed in a 5.6 percent increase in defense-related spending at $782 billion.
The sprawling, 2,741-page omnibus bill — the first major federal spending package of Biden’s administration — also funds the government through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, and averted a partial government shutdown that would’ve occurred at midnight Friday.
Here are five things to know about what the bill does and doesn’t do:
1. America’s Roads Finally Getting Fixed
Biden’s signature on the law unlocks billions of dollars to fully fund the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law, meaning “America can finally get to work on replacing aging highways, roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems,” American Public Works Association CEO Scott Grayson said in a statement to Route Fifty, a news outlet covering trends in state and local governments across the country.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration released $5.5 billion this fiscal year and $27 billion over five years to fix about 15,000 of the nation’s worst bridges. About 45,000 bridges are rated as structurally deficient. Other funds going to the state transportation departments required the approval of Congress, which the omnibus spending bill accomplishes.
2. The ‘Boyfriend Loophole’ Still Open
The bill renewed the landmark 1990s-era Violence Against Women Act that lapsed during the Trump administration amid bipartisan bickering. And it almost didn't happen this time because of opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association and some Republicans in Congress over wording that would have closed the “boyfriend loophole.”
Democrats backed down from the provision, allowing the federal law to stand as is: People convicted of domestic abuse may have to surrender their guns under current federal law if they are currently or formerly married to the victim, live together, have a child together, or are the parent or guardian. Stalkers and current and former dating partners are excluded.
U.S. Rep. Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston, is among lawmakers who aren’t giving up on closing the loophole, The Associated Press reported.
The reauthorized version of the law, which Biden worked on during his days in the Senate, strengthens rape prevention and education efforts as well as training for those in law enforcement and the judicial system.
“One of the ways to help women is to get the gun out of the hands of the abuser,” Lee said. “And this is not an NRA question. This is a human question. This is saving women and children. This is stepping into their shoes.”
3. No COVID-19 Money
The White House wanted $22.5 billion in supplemental funding to bolster the fight against COVID-19, while the House approved more than $15 billion. But Democrats dropped the coronavirus aid package amid disputes that threatened Ukraine aid and other domestic priorities. Among the points of contention for House Democrats was language in the bill that would have pulled the money from coronavirus aid previously allocated to states.
Eliminating coronavirus spending leaves the Biden administration’s new COVID-19 road map in some doubt. It underscores the deep partisan divides over the pandemic and the government’s response to it, but also shows the pandemic is no longer the government’s top priority.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that although it was a “heartbreaking” concession, “we must continue to fight for urgently needed” COVID-19 assistance.
4. The Politics Of Abortion
Republicans reinstalled the Hyde Amendment, a so-called “legacy rider” that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, in appropriations legislation. The amendment has been included in annual appropriations bills since it was introduced in the 1970s by Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican.
This is another policy battle Democrats pledged to save for later so the omnibus bill, and the urgent Ukraine aid, could move forward. But it’s also a concession that permanently eliminating the decades-long ban on federal abortion spending is all but dead in a 50-50 Senate.
Democrats were also unsuccessful in keeping out the Weldon amendment, included in every federal Health and Human Services bill since 2005, which bars entities that don’t want to provide abortion care from being denied federal money.
It’s also a defeat for Biden, who said in the primary he “could no longer continue to abide by” the Hyde amendment restrictions.
5. D.C. And The Marijuana Conundrum
Voters in the District of Columbia approved recreational marijuana cultivation and use among adults in 2014. Because the District of Columbia can’t control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the local D.C. government from taxing and regulating cannabis through the Harris amendment.
The rider from Congressman Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, has set up a bizarre situation in which D.C. residents can legally use pot, but they can’t sell it, enabling a black market and depriving the city of the lucrative tax revenue gains experienced by other states with legal marijuana.
The rider creates “a public safety problem,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, told The Washington Post. “I can’t be strong enough about this.”
“We have a burgeoning illegal, unregulated market that’s surrounded with criminal activity,” Mendelson said. “The market’s not only illegal, but there is criminal activity such as robberies around these black-market pop-ups, and we can’t do anything about it because we cannot regulate the sale or distribution of marijuana because of this rider.”