Congress on Friday passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill that contains $573 billion for the Defense Department as well as controversial cyber legislation.
The defense portion of the package appropriates $514 billion for Defense Department base expenses and $59 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account that pays for wartime spending. Lawmakers also attached the Cyber Information and Sharing Act, which aims to increase the sharing of cyber threat indicators between private entities and the government (Defense Daily, Dec. 16)
The House on Friday morning pushed through the legislation in a 316–113 vote in favor of the legislation. A brief couple hours afterward, the Senate passed the bill in a 65-33 vote. The bill will now go to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had said she wasn’t sure whether Democrats would back the omnibus, her party overwhelmingly supported passage of the bill, with 166 members voting for and 18 against. The Republicans were more divided, voting 150-95 in favor of the measure.
When asked what had changed to prompt Democratic support of the omnibus, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said there had been misunderstandings about what was and wasn’t in the bill.
“We were able to resolve it this morning, and working with my colleagues in appropriations, we were able to spread the facts,” she said.
Republicans also made up the majority of no votes in the Senate, with seven Democrats and 26 GOP members opposing the bill.
Senate Arms Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted against the measure in part because it undid restrictions on Russian rocket engines that had been signed into law though the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The new provisions in the omnibus would allow United Launch Alliance (ULA) to compete in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program with its Atlas V vehicle, even if the company continues to use the Russian RD-180 engine (Defense Daily, Dec. 16)
However, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)—a Senate Appropriations Committee member who played a pivotal role in lifting the RD-180 restriction in the omnibus—also opposed the spending package, despite the fact that the Atlas V is manufactured in his home state. The reason, he said in a statement released Dec. 16, is that the omnibus does not include enough restrictions on Syrian refugees.
The road to a final budget agreement was long and arduous. As ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) helped craft the defense appropriations bill. When it came to the Senate floor, he helped Democrats block the bill multiple times—a strategy that Durbin said ultimately forced Republicans to come to the table on a budget agreement that would lift mandatory spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
“[Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell called that bill at least twice or maybe three times—I lost count—believing eventually our unity would crack,” he said. “It didn’t. As a result, we had an opportunity to go to the table with the White House, Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and it was that meeting that led to a budget agreement.
In statements released after the passage of the spending packages, lawmakers reiterated their desire to return to “normal business.”
While the last minute passage of a large spending bill isn’t ideal, the omnibus package is solid and reflects “a hard-fought, fair compromise” among lawmakers, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).
“It bolsters funding for our national defense and strengthens homeland security, protecting against harmful cuts that would gut our military readiness and put future security at risk,” he said.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said, “the increases in defense spending contained in this bill are critical to mitigating the shortfalls imposed on readiness by sequester. This bill is a responsible down payment on the work that needs to be done in 2016 and beyond to properly resource our military and to protect our nation in a dangerous world.”