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U.S. House to vote on $1.66 trillion funding bill amid Republican anger

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WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday began debate on a $1.66 trillion government funding bill, with Republican leader Kevin McCarthy railing against the measure funding all federal agencies through Sept. 30.

Passage of the Senate-approved measure, which also dispatches more emergency aid to Ukraine, in the House would send it to President Joe Biden to sign into law before a midnight Friday (0500 GMT Saturday) deadline when temporary funds would expire.

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Conservative House Republicans went on the attack at the start of House debate, criticizing the overall cost of the bill which they said was riddled with wasteful spending that has stoked inflation in the United States.

The bill, of over 4,000 pages, was passed on Thursday in the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 68-29, with the support of 18 Senate Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Minority Leader McCarthy called the appropriations bill a “monstrosity” and “one of the most shameful acts” he has seen in Congress.

McCarthy, who is seeking to become the next speaker of the House, has been working hard to shore up support from his most conservative Republican rank-and-file, who contend that he has not yet nailed down enough support to win that election on the first ballot on Jan. 3.

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Far-right Republicans want deep domestic spending cuts that this “omnibus” spending bill does not accomplish.

After weeks of haggling and threats of government shutdowns, Congress aims to complete one of its most basic duties: appropriating money to keep the bureaucracy humming, three months after a new fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

Its failure to pass a funding bill on time, which is becoming a norm, meant that the government had to function on temporary extensions of last year’s funding levels, which Democrats and Republicans alike say poses threats to national security.

National security concerns prompted legislators to include a provision to ban the use of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on federal government devices.

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While many House Republicans said they preferred to simply legislate another temporary funding bill extending into early next year, the massive full-year measure takes a heavy load off of Republican leaders who will take control of the chamber on Jan. 3 as a result of November’s midterm elections.

That will allow House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to avoid a fierce fight at the start of the new year and focus on his run for the powerful position of House speaker.

While the majority of his caucus supports him, a vocal minority of conservative Republicans have voiced opposition to his candidacy, a concern since he needs a majority of the 435-member House to support him.

Democrats are likely to support their newly selected leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, to be speaker in a mostly symbolic effort.

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‘NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS’

“From funding for nutrition programs and housing assistance, to reducing home energy costs and increasing college affordability, this bill is a direct investment into the American people and our national security,” Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said of the bill upon its passage.

Some Republicans were not won over. “This is the nightmare before Christmas. A foolish way to run government and I won’t participate in it,” Senator Rand Paul said, complaining it was cobbled together by “Democrats and big government Republicans.”

The legislation would provide the Defense Department with a record $858 billion, up from $740 billion last year.

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Around $800 billion would be designated for the array of non-military programs, $68 billion over fiscal 2022.

Ukraine would get $44.9 billion in new emergency U.S. aid. The debate in Congress over the bill was punctuated by a visit on Wednesday by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who thanked Americans for bolstering his country’s war effort against Russia and argued the U.S. funds were a good “investment.”

“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Zelenskiy, told a joint meeting of Congress.

Other major spending items in the bill include over $27 billion for the victims of natural disasters, a major increase in funding for those struggling with drug addiction and funding to help carry major infrastructure projects made possible by a bill enacted in 2021.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery, Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Scott Malone, Lisa Shumaker and Alistair Bell)

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