Congress Agrees on Appropriations Legislation
It’s good news that Congress this week approved appropriations legislation for the current fiscal year. The budget and appropriations negotiations dragged on until almost halfway through the fiscal year, but the two parties finally struck a deal. This and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed in November show that compromise on big issues is still possible in our deeply divided country. We have been buffeted by one plague after another - Trumpism, COVID-19, and now war in Europe - but our political leaders can still work out compromises.
Nobody got everything they wanted in this $1.5 trillion package, but the bill includes good news for those of us who focus on efforts to end poverty and hunger. It significantly increases funding for education (public schools in low-income communities and college scholarships) and mental health (including opioid addiction treatment). It provides new funding for climate resiliency and money to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. The Circle of Protection coalition of church bodies and ministries in which I’m involved focused on needs in the areas of housing and child nutrition; the bill includes significant new funding in these areas too, but less than we wanted. This legislation also includes two promising policy decisions - funding for a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Health, and Hunger and passage of the Violence Against Women Act.
As this package was being negotiated, the Circle of Protection especially stressed the need for international aid, notably famine relief and COVID vaccinations in low-income countries. The Republican negotiators blocked these initiatives to address dire needs among the world’s poorest people. They also blocked most of the funding the President requested for the next phase of our response to COVID in the United States. The Democratic leadership in Congress then tried to cover the cost of domestic and international work against COVID with unspent funds that were allocated to state governments last year. But a group of rank-and-file Democrats opposed that, and the appropriations legislation passed with very little funding to deal with the ongoing challenge of COVID-19.
Republicans and Democrats joined together enthusiastically to approve military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees. I support U.S. and NATO defense against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But this week’s appropriations decisions provided an early example of the massive, wide-ranging, long-term damage this war in Europe will do. Our political leaders were united in Ukraine-related funding, but couldn’t agree on funding for next steps in the struggle to control COVID.