Congress gives final approval to massive $1.7tn spending bill

The US House of Representatives has passed a $1.7tn annual spending bill, sending the mammoth package to president Joe Biden for his signature and averting a government shutdown before the holidays.

The 225-201 vote in the House on Friday came a day after the US Senate approved the measure, shoring up $45bn in additional aid for Ukraine after president Volodymyr Zelenskyy who made a daring trip to Washington this week to plead for continued support.

The bill’s $45bn in emergency assistance for Ukraine is more than the Biden administration had initially requested. In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday evening, Zelenskyy said it was “not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

The funding will in part directly assist the Ukrainian military and deliver humanitarian aid to the country as it fends off Russia’s invasion. It will also replenish US stocks of equipment provided to Kyiv and other parts of the US response to the war.

Republican lawmakers are gearing up to more closely scrutinise Ukraine aid when they take control of the House of Representatives in the new year. Kevin McCarthy, who is campaigning to be speaker of the House, has said there will be “no blank cheque” for Ukraine assistance.

Also included in the bill is an amendment passed on Thursday, led by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, which allows the proceeds from the sale of certain confiscated Russian assets to help Ukraine in its war with Moscow.

While the US and other countries have targeted Russia and its oligarchs with sanctions packages, US law has restricted how money from those assets could be used. Under the new measure, the sale and proceeds from seized mega-yachts, private jets, mansions and more can be used to benefit Ukraine.

The legislation, known as an omnibus bill, also includes nearly $773bn in domestic funding and more than $850bn for the US military.

The spending measures will fund the US government through next September, the end of the 2023 fiscal year, averting any shutdown of federal operations until then.

The $850bn in military funds represents a 10 per cent increase in defence spending, and includes what Republicans described as the largest-ever research and development budget of $139.7bn, which will fund work on new warfighting technologies such as hypersonic missiles. It will also pay for the construction of 11 new ships and the restoration of 19 joint strike fighters, as well as repairs to other military aircraft.

Tucked into the bill is a critical waiver for Boeing, which faced a December 27 deadline to certify the smallest and largest versions of its single-aisle workhorse jet, the 737 Max. Without the measure attached to the 4,000 page bill, the aircraft maker would have had to either redesign the jets’ cockpits to meet modern crew-alerting standards or cancel plans to make one or both of the planes.

On the non-defence front, the legislation includes provisions to reform the presidential electoral college count and shield it from political interference following the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol, as well as a measure to ban the use of TikTok on federal government devices.

However, it does not include an increase in the US debt limit, setting up a possible showdown between the Republicans and the White House in 2023 and raising the risk that the US could come close to defaulting on its debt. Republicans have suggested they would only raise the limit if Democrats agreed to deep spending cuts, which will probably be unacceptable to Biden and his party.


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