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Friday, March 31, 2023

$1.7 trillion spending package passes in U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate just avoided a Friday deadline when existing funding expires by passing a hefty $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes emergency cash for natural disaster recovery and the Ukrainian war effort. This was done in spite of disagreements over immigration policy.

The U.S. House will now consider the plan, which has the support of both Democrats and Republicans, and may vote as soon as Thursday. After trying unsuccessfully to delay discussions until next year when they would control that chamber, the vast majority of Republicans there are set to vote against forwarding the proposal to President Joe Biden. The omnibus measure will be signed, according to Biden.

The plan, which was passed by the Senate on a 68-29 vote only hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Congress, contains $45 billion in fresh military and humanitarian aid to help the Ukrainian people fend against Russia’s invasion. The U.S. has already contributed more than $111 billion to the conflict. It required 60 votes to pass.

The state-federal Medicaid health insurance program for low-income Americans and persons with disabilities would also see significant changes, agreed by Congress. In addition to phasing out the additional federal funds states received during the COVID-19 outbreak to keep individuals on the health insurance program, the plan would allow states to start removing certain millions of citizens from Medicaid as early as April.

Senate GOP leaders helped design the legislation and voted for the deal, in sharp contrast to House Republican leaders who chose to abstain from the bipartisan discussions on the funding agreement and whip against the proposal.

The plan is “imperfect but powerful,” according to Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who also praised a significant increase in defense spending.

This week, McConnell stated, “Senators have two choices: We will either provide our military troops with the resources and security they require, or we won’t.”

He pointed out that if the omnibus wasn’t passed, Congress would be forced to enact more short-term budget measures, which would result in “military real-dollar funding losses due to inflation, and offer Defense Department commanders little assurance to plan and invest.”

Additionally, McConnell endorsed the Ukrainian investment, calling it “morally right.”

But it goes beyond that. Additionally, it’s a direct investment in the stern interests of America, McConnell continued.

Throughout a floor address on Wednesday morning, Schumer praised the legislation’s domestic spending increases, pointing out that it would expand federal child care aid money by 30% and make permanent a program that allows kids to receive school meals during the summer.

Additionally, the bill would maintain the one-year postpartum health insurance coverage for patients enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which Schumer called “a fantastic breakthrough.”

People of color experience higher death rates, which is a scandal, according to Schumer. “Discrimination in maternity care and during delivery is a genuine blight on our society,” he said. This is an excellent first step in attempting to remove the stain on our nation’s honor.

The massive $1.7 trillion spending plan would provide funding for all of the federal government’s departments and agencies, including the Pentagon, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and public lands, through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

Following months of back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans over how much more cash to grant for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, negotiators delivered the 4,155-page omnibus government spending measure early on Tuesday morning.

A total of $40 billion is included in the bill to aid communities in their recovery from natural disasters, including $5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, $3.7 billion for crop and livestock losses, and $75 million for Interior Department efforts to put out wildfires.

A number of bills that lawmakers have been haggling over for months are included in the package, including one that would amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to make clear the vice president’s ceremonial role and raise the bar for challenging a state’s electors from one member of each chamber to one-fifth of each chamber.

The legislation would outlaw the use of the social networking app TikTok by federal employees when using company phones.

Legislators enacted a measure that would provide the Food and Drug Administration its first-ever control over cosmetics.

The changes to Medicaid follow a letter from 25 GOP governors to Biden earlier this week in which they urged him to halt the COVID-19 public health emergency in April because it was “negatively affecting states” by putting more people on Medicaid.

The governors stated in their letter that this was costing the states hundreds of millions of dollars.

“States have added 20 million persons to the Medicaid rolls (an rise of 30%) since the beginning of the epidemic,” they noted, “and those numbers continue to climb as the PHE continues to be extended every 90 days.”

Democrats have stressed further amendments to the omnibus bill that will help kids.

In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, said, “I’m ecstatic that Medicaid and CHIP will now offer 12 months of continuous coverage for children to ensure that the 40 million children on Medicaid and CHIP have uninterrupted access to health care throughout the year.”

“With the help of this clause and the additional two years of financing for CHIP obtained in this deal, our children will no longer be vulnerable to coverage variations that put their health and wellbeing in peril.

“The omnibus also makes the option for states to provide 12 months of postpartum coverage permanent, which I hope all states will accept to guarantee that new women have access to health care in the crucial first year following birth.”

In relation to other family-related concerns, the omnibus government budget bill excludes the extension of the child tax credit, which Congress had previously approved during the epidemic but has since expired due to disagreement over its design.

The Afghan Adjustment Act, a bipartisan plan that would have helped give certain Afghan exiles a road to legal permanent residency, is not included in the proposal.

According to Schumer, the measure was stopped from being included in the comprehensive budget plan by GOP leaders on Tuesday.

It was of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership stopped it despite some solid Republican backing, according to Schumer. “These are folks who put their life at danger for our military personnel and for our nation.”

The federal financing legislation had to be negotiated in the final days of the 117th Congress, according to McConnell, who said that this was one of the reasons the bill was left out.

It is a significant problem, but the law left out many other issues that, in my opinion, were very significant, according to McConnell. “That needs to be handled. I consider it crucial.

In a letter to Congress, several former ambassadors to Afghanistan, three former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and numerous other retired military commanders pleaded with legislators to adopt the legislation.

According to the former ambassadors, “tens of thousands of freshly arrived Afghans will have to find an existing immigration avenue to remain lawful once their parole expires” in the absence of the Afghan Adjustment Act.

Tens of thousands of additional asylum claims will result from this, despite the fact that there are already more than 400,000 cases in the backlog for affirmative asylum and 1.4 million cases in total for immigration.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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