Spending Bill Hits ‘Airing of Grievances’ Stage

Spending Bill Hits ‘Airing of Grievances’ Stage

President Biden and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy
USA Today Network
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Good evening! Three hundred days after Russia began its assault on Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Washington, D.C. today, sitting down with President Joe Biden at the White House before holding a joint news conference. Zelenskyy is set to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress at 7:30 p.m. "Wednesday’s one-day trip to Washington is designed as a thank you, a victory lap, and a sales pitch all at once," The New York Times said.

The very public sales pitch is likely to ramp up pressure on those Republicans who are opposed to providing more aid to Ukraine — though some in the GOP are reportedly skipping Zelenskyy’s speech. "I’m against anymore funding for Ukraine and his words will not change my mind," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), a Freedom Caucus member, told Politico.

House Republican leaders have encouraged their members to oppose the nearly $1.7 trillion year-end omnibus bill now making its way through Congress — a package that includes $45 billion in additional aid for Ukraine.

Also on Wednesday, the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol delayed releasing its final report until tomorrow (but we already got the 154-page executive summary on Monday.) And details of Donald Trump’s tax returns raised some fresh questions about the former president’s finances and the Internal Revenue Service.

Here is what else you need to know:

Senators Scramble To Finish $1.7 Trillion Spending Bill

The Senate is reportedly running into some obstacles as it looks to pass the $1.66 trillion omnibus spending package as soon as tonight. Current federal funding expires at midnight Friday, and a partial government shutdown would ensue if a new spending bill isn’t approved in time.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday morning that he hoped the package could be approved quickly after a bipartisan procedural vote advanced it Tuesday night by a 70-25 margin.

But as of Wednesday evening, lawmakers were still negotiating amendment votes — votes that may be needed to get all 100 senators to consent to a time agreement speeding consideration of the bill. "Bipartisan hopes of a speedy exit hinge on whether lawmakers can vault over a long line of procedural hurdles," Politico noted.

"I’m frustrated. Very frustrated," Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told Punchbowl News.

"We need a Festivus miracle," Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said, per Politico. "We’ve got plenty of airing of grievances right now."

Pressure from House conservatives: Twenty-one Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to advance the spending package, rebuffing pressure from House Republicans opposed to the legislation. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday reportedly joined a closed-door gathering of Senate Republicans to urge them to vote against the legislation.

McCarthy, facing resistance from some of his own members as he seeks to become the next speaker of the House, has pushed for the spending bill to be delayed until Republicans take control of the House and can exert leverage over the package. He threatened this week to retaliate against Senate Republicans who support the bill by opposing their legislation, backing an idea put forth by some hard-liners in his caucus. "When I’m Speaker, their bills will be dead on arrival in the House if this nearly $2T monstrosity is allowed to move forward over our objections and the will of the American people," he tweeted.

In all, 31 conservative House members have now pledged to "do everything in our power to thwart even the smallest legislative and policy efforts" of Republican senators who vote for the omnibus.

Some in the Senate have suggested that they are doing their House GOP counterparts a favor by relieving them of the pressure to legislate like grown-ups (we’re paraphrasing). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), meanwhile, has argued that the compromise package isn’t perfect but contains some valuable Republican wins, pointing to increases for defense that outpace those for non-defense spending.

"If Senate Republicans control the chamber, we would have handled the appropriations process entirely differently from top to bottom," McConnell said. "But, given the reality of where we stand today, senators have two options this week, just two: Give our armed forces the resources and the certainty that they need or we will deny it to them."

The bottom line: The omnibus has again highlighted a schism within the GOP. "What do GOP fiscal hawks hate more, a mammoth spending bill or the threat of canceling their holiday flights because of a massive storm? The Senate might soon find out," Politico said. Don’t bet against the omnibus passing in time.

Another $1.85 Billion in Aid for Ukraine

Ahead of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s meeting with U.S. leaders and speech to Congress Wednesday evening, the Biden administration announced a new, $1.85 billion military aid package for Ukraine.

The aid package consists of about $1 billion worth of weapons and equipment from Defense Department inventories — including for the first time a Patriot surface-to-air missile system, the most sophisticated air defense system in the U.S. arsenal — along with $850 million in assistance provided through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds the purchase of supplies from manufacturers.

In addition to the Patriot missile system, the aid from the Pentagon includes:

* Ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS;

* 500 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds;

* 10 120mm mortar systems, with 10,000 rounds;

* 10 82mm mortar systems;

* 10 60mm mortar systems;

* 37 Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, known as MRAPs;

* 120 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles;

* Six armored utility trucks;

* High-speed anti-radiation missiles, known as HARMs;

* Claymore anti-personnel mines;

* Demolition munitions and equipment;

* Night vision devices;

* Body armor and other field equipment.

The Defense Department said the money provided through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative will enable the purchase of tens of thousands of artillery rounds of various calibers, as well as rockets, tank ammunition and satellite terminals and services.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in a statement that the aid package is the 28th drawdown of arms and equipment from the Pentagon, bringing "total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to an unprecedented $21.9 billion since the beginning of the Administration."

US Postal Service Plans to Electrify Fleet

The U.S. Postal Service announced Tuesday that it plans to purchase 66,000 electric vehicles for its delivery fleet as part of $9.6 billion modernization effort over the next five years.

The new plan calls for buying 45,0000 electric "Next Generation Delivery Vehicles" (NGDV) built by Wisconsin-based Oshkosh, plus 21,000 electric vehicles of various designs from other automakers, as well as necessary infrastructure. The USPS will also purchase 15,000 gas-powered NGDVs and 25,000 conventional trucks, but all new postal vehicles will be electric starting in 2026.

The announcement marks a shift in the strategy previously announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee who said last year that he planned to purchase mostly gas-powered trucks to replace the mail service’s aging fleet of more than 200,000 vehicles. DeJoy said the funds provided to the post office in the Inflation Reduction Act – $1.3 billion for electric delivery vehicles and $1.7 billion for charging infrastructure – played a key role in formulating the new plan, as did improving finances at the USPS.

"The $3 billion provided by Congress has significantly reduced the risk associated with accelerating the implementation of a nationwide infrastructure necessary to electrify our delivery fleet," DeJoy said in a statement. "While most of the electric vehicle funding will continue to come from Postal Service revenues, we are grateful for the confidence that Congress and the Administration have placed in us to build and acquire what has the potential to become the largest electric vehicle fleet in the nation."

John Podesta, the White House adviser for clean energy innovation who played a key role in developing the plan, said the expanding fleet of electric vehicles could help spur wider adaptation of the technology. "It will get people thinking, ‘If the postal worker delivering our Christmas presents … is driving an EV, I can drive one, too,’" he said.


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