Defense Spending to Soar to $858B in $1.7T Omnibus Bill
10% bump over 2022 mark is far more than then 4% proposed by Biden.
Congressional negotiators on Tuesday morning unveiled the text of an omnibus package to set line-by-line funding for every federal office across government, paving the way for Congress to pass full-year appropriations and avoid a shutdown Friday evening.
The package provides an overall increase to non-defense discretionary spending of about 5.5%, down from a 6.7% increase in fiscal 2022 and the 10% boost President Biden had requested. Defense spending will soar to $858 billion, marking a 10% increase that is well above the 4% bump Biden had sought.
An agreement on the omnibus bill had evaded appropriators for months as they sought a compromise on the top-line funding level and the defense and non-defense spending levels. They reached an agreement last week and subsequently rushed to fill in the details. The bill would provide $1.7 trillion in discretionary funding, with $858 billion going to the Pentagon and related programs and $772.5 billion going to domestic agencies. Democrats failed to achieve their goal of equal funding increases on the two sides.
The package included appropriations for previously agreed to legislation, such as the Honoring Our PACT Act that increased benefits for millions of veterans and the CHIPS and Science Act that boosted investments in key technologies. It also would provide supplemental funding of $45 billion for Ukraine aid and $41 billion for disaster relief.
The Senate is expected to vote first on the omnibus, though the exact timing has yet to be resolved. Leadership is still working on an agreement for expedited passage, but a vote could occur as soon as Wednesday. Some Republican lawmakers that are objecting to the spending package for its size and rushed timing have not yet said if they will go along with such an agreement, but appear to have little appetite to cause a Christmas shutdown.
“We're not going to win this war through dramatics,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., who joined several colleagues on Tuesday in denouncing the funding process. “We're going to build solidly on this next year to try to reform the process in general.”
A preliminary procedural vote on the spending measure passed the Senate 70-25 Tuesday evening, offering a potential glimpse at the level of support the underlying bill will receive.
Ultimately, the package is expected to have enough support to get to President Biden’s desk before the Friday night deadline. Here is a look at some the bill’s most significant impact on federal agencies:
- Federal law enforcement: Overall, the Justice Department would receive a 10% funding boost under the omnibus. Much of the increase at Justice is for staffing at law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Marshals Service, which will be taking on new judicial protection responsibilities. Lawmakers provided $180 million more than the Biden administration requested to "sustain and increase" hiring efforts at the Bureau of Prisons. The bureau must report to Congress on its recruiting efforts, as well as a review of the pay levels for its corrections officers.
- IRS cuts: The Internal Revenue Service is set to receive an appropriation of $12.3 billion, a 2% cut and the rare agency that would see its funding decrease. Democrats said the cut was due to modernization spending that was not provided as IRS can use unobligated funds from the American Rescue Plan. IRS is also in the midst of receiving an unprecedented boost of $80 billion over a 10-year period thanks to funding provided in the Inflation Reduction Act, though Democrats noted the spending surge was meant to supplement, not supplant, annual appropriations. The Taxpayer Services, Enforcement and Operations Support divisions were all frozen at fiscal 2022 levels. In a key victory for IRS, Congress would award direct hiring authority to help the agency staff up and reduce the backlog of outstanding tax filing cases. Outside of IRS, the Treasury Department would see a 10% funding increase.
- Health preparedness: The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Health and Human Services Department would see a 20% funding boost to develop countermeasures against future pandemics and rebuild stockpiles of drugs, masks and other supplies. The boost includes nearly $1 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which marks a 28% increase. More funding would also go to improve the nation's flu response.
- Border security: Border Patrol is in line for a whopping 17% funding boost, which includes the funding for 300 new Border Patrol agents that the Biden administration had repeatedly stressed as necessary to handle the record-high numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. If Border Patrol is unable to meet the hiring goal, it can use the funds on other efforts to boost morale. Customs and Border Protection would see its regular funding increase by 12%, though it would see a separate, one-time appropriation of $1.6 billion to address the uptick at the border. The encounters are only expected to increase when the pandemic-era policy known as Title 42 expires, though the Supreme Court has temporarily paused that from occurring. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would similarly receive a one-time boost of $340 million. None of the funds in those distinct appropriations could be used to hire permanent federal employees. The regular funding mechanism provided CBP's Office of Field Operations with money to offset shortfalls from its fee collections that the agency had warned could lead to furloughs. The Homeland Security Department would see a total increase of $3.2 billion.
- Other immigration efforts: The funding for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is set to be about one-third of the $765 million Biden had requested. The total would mark a significant reduction from fiscal 2022 and bring it closer to the appropriation the largely fee-funded USCIS typically receives. The administration had sought to significantly ramp up hiring at the agency to address backlogs for asylum claims, work authorizations, naturalizations and other immigration benefit cases. Congress provided $133 million for those efforts. Another part of the immigration system with severe backlogs—the Executive Office for Immigraiton Review within the Justice Department—would see a 13% funding boost, in part for the development of electronic case management system.
- Personnel and agency management: The Office of Personnel Management would see a large increase of 13% to improve retirement services and modernize its IT systems. The Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, would see a 12% funding bump. Lawmakers tasked the two agencies to come up with a plan to speed up federal hiring within four months of the bill’s enactment. CBP would have to develop its own human capital strategy plan, including the impacts of a retirement wave, lessons from previous hiring efforts and the funding that will be necessary to support future hiring efforts.
- TSA pay and benefits: The Transportation Security Administration will have to slow its efforts to provide pay parity between the TSA workforce and the rest of the federal government, as appropriators only provided $397.6 million of the $992 million requested to enact a pay scale at the agency equivalent to the General Schedule. Since the agency’s inception, TSA has struggled with high attrition and low morale, in part caused by the fact that TSA screeners and other frontline workers are drastically underpaid compared to the rest of the federal workforce. TSA is set to receive nearly $61 million to hire new employees.
- Social Security Administration: Lawmakers authorized roughly half of the $1.4 billion spending increase proposed by the Biden administration to support a hiring surge at the agency. Over the last decade, the agency’s budget had fallen by 13%, when accounting for inflation, and 7% of the workforce has left since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the Social Security Administration warned that continued underfunding would hamper already declining customer service, fueling a feedback loop where overworked employees flee the agency, increasing the workload of remaining employees and spurring them to quit as well.
- Veterans: The Veterans Affairs Department would see a 20% boost to its discretionary funding as it prepares to provide more health care services and benefits to victims of burn pits. After considerable debate, Republicans successfully blocked an effort by Democrats and the White House to shift some veterans health care funding to the mandatory side of the ledger. Democrats said it was necessary to protect veterans, while Republicans said it amounted to a gimmick to free up more funds for other initiatives across government.
- Scientific research: The National Science Foundation is in line for $10 billion in funding, the largest dollar increase ever for the agency and the largest percentage increase in two decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is set to receive an 8% bump, including an 18% increase for research.
Erich Wagner contributed to this report.