By - Tim Rosado
Congressional appropriators released the details of a proposed FY 2023 appropriations "Omnibus," a legislative package that encompasses 12 appropriations measures in one bill (December 20). Congress must now debate and pass the Omnibus by no later than this coming Friday, December 23. That's when a temporary government funding measure–a continuing resolution, or "CR"–will expire.
The Omnibus is massive, covering $1.7 trillion worth of spending and also incorporating policy related to the spending, as well as many extraneous matters in recognition that this legislation will be the last major legislative vehicle passed by the lame duck, 117th Congress.
It will take a little time to break down all the numbers and major elements. That being the case, here is a quick breakdown of the most important things to know.
In a major policy win for defense hawks, funding for defense programs increase by $858 billion, the same level as the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2023, representing more than a 10% increase in funding.
Defense funding includes resources primarily for the Defense Department, but also for other defense-related programs outside of the Department (e.g., intelligence, some nuclear activities, etc.). The total is $45 billion (5.5%) above the Biden Administration's $813 billion FY 2023 budget request.
The bill provides non-defense funding of $800 billion for non-defense funding activities, a $68 billion and 9.3% funding increase (per a House Democrat majority release) spread across literally hundreds of programs (note: Republicans claim a much lower increase for non-defense activities, about 5.5%, by apparently excluding VA medical care funding). The majority of non-defense funding is destined for pay and benefits adjustments for employees, as well as contract cost increases tied to inflation, but there are some relatively small shifts in funding in key areas. Overall, the fact that non-defense activities did not receive parity in increases with defense programs is a major concession of Democrats.
There are so many elements to this bill unrelated to annual funding. Here is a selection of notable items:
Ukraine Supplemental Funding - Includes nearly $47 billion in funding for Ukraine, about $10 billion above the Administration's November supplemental request. Among other things, funding includes $9 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative; nearly $12 billion to replenish U.S. military stocks distributed for Ukraine-related purposes; and more than $13 billion for Ukraine economic and budgetary support. A $45 billion figure is commonly cited, which likely excludes $2.4 billion in HHS support to resettle Ukrainian refugees in the United States.
Disaster Funding - Includes nearly $41 billion in funding towards response/recovery from disasters and other events. Among other things, funding includes $27 billion in emergency funding for needs tied to Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Ian in Florida; the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire; and the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.
Electoral Reform - Includes the provisions of the Electoral Count Reform Act, legislative developed by a bipartisan group of Senators to fix electoral count processes that some believe helped foster the chaos that happened on January 6th after the 2020 Presidential election.
Medicare Cuts - Includes provisions which defer until 2025 significant cuts to Medicare, to include cuts to physicians and hospitals, reportedly worth upwards of an estimated $100 billion. These cuts would have begun being implemented in 2023 under mandatory Federal budget sequestration rules.
Retirement Reforms - Includes retirement savings and other related reforms tied to the Secure and Strong Retirement Act--SECURE Act 2.0 passed by the House. The legislation may reflect a compromise proposal negotiated between the Senate and House.
TikTok on Government Devices Ban - Includes legislation passed by the Senate that bans the TikTok app on Federal Government devices given the Chinese ownership relationship to TikTok and related Bytedance, and the perceived security and privacy threats of Chinese access to user data.
Boeing Max 737 Certification Deadline - Includes provisions giving Boeing more time to incorporate improved crew alerting systems in its hugely important 737 MAX program. Specifically, Boeing will be able to be certified for Max 7 and Max 10 models despite a current statutory deadline for improved systems this year, but the company will have to retrofit aircraft without the systems within 3 years.
Public Pool Safety Legislation - Includes the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Reauthorization Act, a proposal that, among other things, extends grant program eligibility for nonprofits and tribes. The current program provides state and local governments with funding to help implement enforcement and education programs that help prevent drownings and drain entrapments in pools and spas.
3rd Party Sellers Online - Includes provisions of the INFORM Consumers Act, which will require online companies to collect and verify basic seller information, and for sellers disclose information to consumers. This is intended to protect consumers and businesses from organized retail crime.
Lobster Industry Protection - Includes a provision giving the U.S. lobster industry six years to address fishing gear equipment and practices that have a connection to entangling/killing critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, despite environmental requirements in a NOAA recent regulation imposing new lobster trap standards.
Driftnets. Includes provisions of the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, legislation that among other things provides authority to conduct a transition program to facilitate the phaseout of large-scale driftnet fishing. The program authorizes NOAA to provide grants to operators of driftnet fishing vessels with federal permits to cover the cost of permits, the forfeiture of existing fishing gear, and the acquisition of alternative new fishing gear.
Iran Sanctions - Includes provisions of the Masih Alinejad Harassment and Unlawful Targeting (HUNT) Act, that among other things requires the imposition of mandatory sanctions against those engaging in acts of transnational repression on behalf of Iranian authorities.
Did Not Make the Cut
There were many proposals things vying for inclusion in this final legislative vehicle for the current lame duck Congress, but most did not make it. Among the notable items not making the cut include:
Cannabis Reform/SAFE Banking Act. The Omnibus does not include the provisions of the proposed SAFE Banking Act, legislation intended to ensure cannabis-related businesses can participate in the financial system, most importantly by ensuring that financial transactions involving activities of legitimate cannabis-related business would no longer be considered as generating proceeds from unlawful activities. Advocates also tried and failed to include the measure in the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
Immigration Reforms. Advocates for immigration reforms were hoping for the inclusion of some, at least limited reform measures, including the Farmworkers Modernization Act, but nothing significant has been included. The House has been separately unable to vote on the EAGLE Act given a lack of votes to ensure passage. Forget about comprehensive immigration reforms. Ultimately, desperately-needed immigration reforms are essentially dead for now even as the crisis at the border grows.
Wildlife Legislation. While limited tax measures with respect to retirement reform were included in the Omnibus, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was not included. This bipartisan legislation was going to establish a significant and permanent source of funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Wildlife Restoration Program. Disagreements over the tax revenue-financed approach likely led to the proposal's demise within the Omnibus. If there truly is bipartisan support for this idea, this might be something that actually be accomplished in the next Congress.
Members of Congress and Stock Trading. No consensus on this matter was apparently reached on the specifics of a stock trading ban, or merely additional restrictions, and therefore no new restrictions for now will be placed on stock trading by those elected to Congress.