Senate Democrats unveil sweeping funding bills, teeing up showdown with Republicans

Senate Democrats unveiled sweeping legislation outlining their plans to fund the government for the coming fiscal year, and Republicans are already drawing battle lines around their non-starters on abortion and other “poison pills.”

The mammoth package, which consists of all 12 annual appropriation bills, would provide $653 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, up 10.1 percent from the current fiscal year, as well as $850 billion in defense discretionary spending, which is 8.7 percent higher than fiscal 2022.

Packed into the package includes ambitious plans to advance Democratic-backed priorities spanning policy areas like climate, marijuana, defense and border security. Democrats also tucked in a proposed $21 billion COVID-19 emergency supplemental funding measure. 

“These bills are an investment in the American people that promote affordable housing, help families put food on the table, support the education and care of our children and young people, combat climate change, improve health care access, and invest in our communities,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said.  

“It is my hope that by releasing these bills, and making clear what the priorities of Senate Democrats are, we can take a step closer toward reaching a bipartisan compromise after months of stalled negotiations,” he added.

Republicans bristled at the legislation upon its release, with Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), vice chairman of the appropriations committee, writing off the drafts for failing to “appropriately allocate resources to our national defense,” and removing legacy riders that passed in the fiscal 2022  government funding omnibus earlier this year. 

“They have even taken the drastic step of providing hundreds of millions of dollars for taxpayer-financed abortions,” Shelby said, while decrying the proposed funding as “wasteful” and warning of a “long-term” continuing resolution (CR), a funding bandaid Congress often passes when it hasn’t reached a deal on speeding.  

Among the key points Democrats highlight in their proposals is funding for climate and renewable energy, including $10.6 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), up $1.1 billion from the current fiscal year, which includes a record $180 million investment aimed at environmental justice within the agency. The bills also lay out billions in funding for climate adaptation efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and for the Green Climate Fund.

Democrats highlight the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in their funding summaries, touting their renewed efforts to go after abortion restrictions like the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits use of programs like Medicaid to pay for abortion services, but also new proposals around the issue.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and education, said her subpanel’s bill includes a “new, historic abortion fund,” which she said aims to “help women get abortion care by providing assistance to cover the costs of services, travel, childcare, lodging and more.”

Democrats propose about $89. billion in discretionary budget authority for the fiscal year 2023 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Senate Appropriations bill, with billions aimed at homeless assistance, affordable housing and measures aimed at strengthening items like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Democrats also recommended $792.1 billion in funding for the Department of Defense, which is roughly $30 billion higher than the defense appropriations bill that advanced out of committee in the House, and more than what President Biden requested in his budget. 

The increase comes after Republicans balked at earlier funding proposals for defense programs, one of the list of hurdles keeping both sides from reaching a deal on an overall top-line.

“This legislation will keep America safe by giving our troops a well-earned pay raise, ensuring our servicemen and women are well-trained and well-equipped with the most up-to date technology, and shifting resources toward programs that’ll maintain our fighting edge over adversaries like China and Russia,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said.

However, Senate Republicans say more is needed, instead pointing to the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month as a more workable figure. The measures would allow for more than $857 billion for national defense, of which, roughly $817 billion would be put toward the Pentagon.

Senators currently have until the end of September, when current government funding is set to lapse, to pass their annual funding bills, or risk a shutdown. 

A number of Senate appropriators expect Congress to pass a CR before then to buy more time for negotiations, particularly with the pivotal midterm elections approaching. However, some Democrats have pushed back against a CR, which they argue as costly amid rising inflation.

“The stakes of inaction are too high to not complete our work,” Leahy said. “The burden of inflation would make a long-term continuing resolution untenable with grave consequences for communities and families across the country and for our national security.”