FederalHealthcareImmigration & BorderTaxes & SpendingCongress Passes $2.3 Trillion Omnibus and Coronavirus Relief Bills

With a total price tag of $2.3 trillion, Congress avoided a shutdown and passed an extensive coronavirus relief package.
December 21, 2020
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Another year, and another later-than-last-minute omnibus spending bill has been pushed haphazardly through to avoid a looming government shutdown. The House approved a $1.4 trillion spending bill Monday night to fund the government through what’s left of Fiscal Year 2021.

Congress split the legislation into two measures. The first, largely containing defense and homeland security appropriations, passed 327 to 85. The second measure which included the $900 billion coronavirus relief package, passed 359 to 53.

The bill then moved to the Senate for consideration, which passed it 91 to 7. President Trump is expected to sign it promptly.

Four times this year, Congress shelved such legislation and instead passed continuing resolutions. On September 22, Congress approved a funding measure through December 11. When that deadline came knocking, Congress extended it a week, and when that failed, issued a two-day extension. 

On Sunday, it hurried through a 24-hour extension, hoping the deal could be approved on Monday.

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The House’s rule requiring 72 hours to read a bill before it can move to the floor for passage was suspended in a party line vote with House Democrats affirming the suspension. The bill is nearly 5,600 pages — the longest bill in congressional history.

Members of Congress were not given the final text of the bill until Monday afternoon.

All Democratic Texas congressional members voted for the coronavirus portion, but five — Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35) voted against the defense portion of the omnibus. The other eight supported both.

Seven Republicans voted against both portions: Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01), Van Taylor (R-TX-03), Lance Gooden (R-TX-05), Randy Weber (R-TX-14), Chip Roy (R-TX-21), Michael Cloud (R-TX-27), and Brian Babin (R-TX-36).

Two Republicans, Reps. Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) and Michael Burgess (R-TX-26), voted against the non-defense, coronavirus portion but for the defense portion.

Another 10 Republicans voted for both portions while three did not vote.

Texas’ senators were split with Sen. John Cornyn voting for the measure and Sen. Ted Cruz voting against.

Some big-ticket items in the appropriations bill include $696 billion for defense, a $25 billion boost to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and $43 billion for the National Institutes of Health.

The bill includes $696 billion in defense spending, $1.375 billion in additional border wall funding, and a prohibition on “surprise medical bills.”

The latter occurs when the actual cost of a medical service or product exceeds the agreed upon amount of coverage between the patient and insurance company — resulting in a bill to the patient for the leftover amount.

This happens often when emergency room visits are involved but also generally with any out-of-network provider. With the new law, insurers and health providers will have to negotiate a price and cannot toss the cost on the patient’s lap.

Other monetary provisions within the legislation include $730 million for rural broadband expansion; $114 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps; $5.97 billion to the Food and Drug Administration for purposes including coronavirus vaccine development and distribution; $3.385 billion in grants to state and local law enforcement; and $179 million to renewable energy programs such as those under the Electrify Africa Act; $750 million for fossil fuel research and development.

Line items within the bill also provide for $700 million in aid to Sudan and $15 million to Pakistan for “gender programs.” Security and development upgrade funding in the West Bank and for Palestine total $150 million.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will receive a $370 million increase in its funding from last year and a $111 million increase in funding for the House of Representatives.

Last year’s omnibus appropriations bill totaled $1.37 trillion, which was also presented to members less than a day before the vote. This came after Congress voted to bust the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 by $323 billion.

The last time Congress approved all appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year, avoiding the use of continuing resolutions, was 1997.

The legislation comes as the final acts of the 116th Congress and President Donald Trump. The new Congress will convene on January 6 and former Vice President Joe Biden will take the Oval Office on January 20.

To read details of the coronavirus relief package, visit here.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the vote tallies from Texas’ congressional delegation.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.