Biden signs $1.7 trillion spending bill, including $3.8 billion for Israel, into law

Budget to keep government running through September 2023 includes funding to restock Iron Dome after 2021 Gaza war, as well as $300 million in humanitarian aid for Palestinians

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as he is shown aerial defense systems, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Tel Aviv, as then Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right of Biden, looks on. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as he is shown aerial defense systems, Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Tel Aviv, as then Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right of Biden, looks on. (AP/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill that will keep the federal government operating through the end of the federal budget year in September 2023, and provide tens of billions of dollars in new aid to Ukraine for its fight against the Russian military.

The bill also includes $3.3 billion in security assistance for Israel, the figure former president Barack Obama agreed in 2016 to send to Israel annually over ten years. An additional $500 million was also included in the 2023 budget that will go toward restocking Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Congress agreed to grant the supplemental funds after the May 2021 Gaza War. Another $72.5 million was authorized in the latest budget to go toward US-Israel counter-drone and anti-tunneling cooperation in addition to $6 million for a new US-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Grant Program.

The budget included $2 million for US-Israel homeland security cooperation, $3 million for healthcare cooperation, $6 million for water and energy cooperation, $2 million toward agricultural cooperation, $2 million toward international development cooperation, $8 million toward promoting regional peace efforts, $5 million toward refugee resettlement in Israel and $50 million in funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development.

While US law bars directly funding the Palestinian Authority, the Biden administration has restored funding for humanitarian projects for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza that were cut during the Trump administration. Congress in the spending bill agreed to allocate $225 million for such projects in addition to $75 million for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNWRA, and $42 million for Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.

Biden had until late Friday to sign the bill to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the bill 225-201, mostly along party lines, just before Christmas. The House vote came a day after the Senate, also led by Democrats, voted 68-29 to pass the bill with significantly more Republican support.

Biden had said passage was proof that Republicans and Democrats can work together.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader who hopes to become speaker when a new session of Congress opens on Jan. 3, argued during a floor debate that the bill spends too much and does too little to curb illegal immigration and the flow of fentanyl into the US from Mexico.

“This is a monstrosity that is one of the most shameful acts I’ve ever seen in this body,” McCarthy said of the legislation.

McCarthy is appealing for support from staunch conservatives in the GOP caucus, who have largely blasted the bill for its size and scope. Republicans will have a narrow House majority come Jan. 3 and several conservative members have vowed not to vote for McCarthy to become speaker.

The funding bill includes a roughly 6% increase in spending for domestic initiatives, to $772.5 billion. Spending on defense programs will increase by about 10%, to $858 billion.

Passage was achieved hours before financing for federal agencies was set to expire. Lawmakers had approved two short-term spending measures to keep the government operating, and a third, funding the government through Dec. 30, passed last Friday. Biden signed it to ensure services would continue until Congress sent him the full-year measure, called an omnibus bill.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 21, 2022. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The massive bill, which topped out at more than 4,000 pages, wraps together 12 appropriations bills, aid to Ukraine, and disaster relief for communities recovering from natural disasters. It also contains scores of policy changes that lawmakers worked to include in the final major bill considered by that session of Congress.

Lawmakers provided roughly $45 billion for Ukraine and NATO allies, more than even Biden had requested, an acknowledgment that future rounds of funding are not guaranteed when Republicans take control of the House next week following the party’s gains in the midterm elections.

Though support for Ukraine aid has largely been bipartisan, some House Republicans have opposed the spending and argued that the money would be better spent on priorities in the United States.

McCarthy has warned that Republicans will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine in the future.

The bill also includes about $40 billion in emergency spending, mostly to help communities across the US as they recover from drought, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The White House said it received the bill from Congress late Wednesday afternoon. It was delivered to Biden for his signature by White House staff on a regularly scheduled commercial flight.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is hoping to become the next speaker of the House in the new Republican majority, walks to the chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 23, 2022. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Biden signed the bill Thursday in the US Virgin Islands, where he is spending time with his wife, Jill, and other family members on the island of St. Croix. The Bidens are staying at the home of friends Bill and Connie Neville, the White House said. Bill Neville owns US Viking, maker of ENPS, a news production software system that is sold by The Associated Press.

Also in the bill are scores of policy changes that are largely unrelated to spending, but lawmakers worked furiously behind the scenes to get the added to the bill, which was the final piece of legislation that came out of that session of Congress. Otherwise, lawmakers sponsoring these changes would have had to start from scratch next year in a politically divided Congress in which Republicans will return to the majority in the House and Democrats will continue to control the Senate.

One of the most notable examples was a historic revision to the federal election law to prevent a future president or presidential candidate from trying to overturn an election.

The bipartisan overhaul of the Electoral Count Act is a direct response to then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to persuade Republican lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to object to the certification of Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the Trump-inspired insurrection at the Capitol.

Among the spending increases Democrats emphasized: a $500 increase in the maximum size of Pell grants for low-income college students, a $100 million increase in block grants to states for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, a 22% increase in spending on veterans’ medical care and $3.7 billion in emergency relief to farmers and ranchers hit by natural disasters.

The bill also provides roughly $15.3 billion for more than 7,200 projects that lawmakers sought for their home states and districts. Under revamped rules for community project funding, also referred to as earmarks, lawmakers must post their requests online and attest they have no financial interest in the projects. Still, many fiscal conservatives criticize the earmarking as leading to unnecessary spending.

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