Mar 10, 2022

The $1.5 trillion omnibus bill.

The $1.5 trillion omnibus bill.

It's one of the most important stories of 2022.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

We are breaking down the bill nobody seems to be talking about. Plus, a reader question about my faith and LGTBQ issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got her omnibus bill passed, but not without some drama. Photo: Gage Skidmore
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got her omnibus bill passed, but not without some drama. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Tomorrow.

After I published Tuesday's edition on the "parental rights" bill in Florida, I got an email from a self-described "heterodox lefty journalist" who said she was "fighting hard to complicate the narrative around gender dysphoric youth." In part, she told me that she disagreed with my take, and that she felt it needed more nuance, and rejected the left-right divide on the issue. She also asked me if she could publish a response in Tangle.

I talk a lot about being an open platform for different voices. And I talk a lot about the need to allow space for competing arguments. So I figured this was an opportunity to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and let another professional writer reply directly to something I’ve written and critique it. So tomorrow, I'll be publishing that piece as our Friday edition.


Quick hits.

  1. Inflation rose again last month, with the Consumer Price Index up 0.8% in February and 7.9% over a year earlier, the steepest 12-month rise since 1982. (The numbers)
  2. Russian shelling in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol has killed at least 1,170 people and destroyed a hospital housing a maternity ward, according to the mayor (The casualties). President Zelensky said he believes Putin will negotiate an end to the war, but those negotiations fell through yesterday. (The talks)
  3. A grand jury in Colorado indicted Tina Peters, a Republican candidate for secretary of state, on seven felony counts related to an investigation into tampering with the results of the 2020 election. (The charges)
  4. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) was charged with driving with a revoked license for the second time, a misdemeanor charge that carries up to 20 days in jail. (The charges)
  5. A federal judge said he would decide whether emails to and from John Eastman should be released to the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. (The emails)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

The $1.5 trillion omnibus bill. If you just said, "the what?" I wouldn't blame you. Amidst so much news about Russia, Ukraine, oil, and state legislation in Florida, very little has been said about arguably the most important thing that has happened in Congress so far this year: The $1.5 trillion spending bill President Biden hopes to sign in the next 36 hours.

What's an omnibus bill? Wikipedia helpfully notes that the word "omnibus" is derived from the Latin "to, for, by, with or from everything" — which is a good way to understand omnibus bills. Essentially, an omnibus bill is the way Congress groups together budgets from across the federal government into a single huge bill that supplies funding for the whole government for the entire year.

Why now? Because of the dysfunction in Congress, the federal government's budget is often running on what's called a "Continuing Resolution" (CR), which is a stop-gap funding bill. On February 8th, Congress passed a CR that expires on March 11th, which is midnight on Friday. That means that they have to either pass another CR or an omnibus spending bill by that time — otherwise the government will shut down (which has happened a few times in recent memory).

This time, though, Democrats are determined to pass an omnibus bill because President Biden has not yet gotten one through Congress. In other words: The President hasn't yet signed his own major government funding legislation. He's been operating under President Trump's budget for the last 400 days (a good reminder of how early we still are in Biden's presidency). But with some must-haves in this bill (like funding for aid in Ukraine), it’s an opportunity to lock up both Democratic and Republican priorities for the year.

So what happened? A lot of fighting! There's a long, winding story about how we got to this that you can read here (paywall) if you want. The short version is that Democrats had a lot of infighting and Republicans were able to extract some concessions (sound familiar?). One of the most important debates was over another round of Covid-19 funding. The White House wanted an additional $30 billion for testing, therapeutics and new vaccines. They came down to $22.5 billion in negotiations with Republicans, who objected because they wanted a full accounting of the money already spent.

So, to offset some of the new spending, Democratic leadership cut a deal: They proposed using money from the $7 billion set aside for specific state governments in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill from last year. But that would’ve meant pulling back money that many Democratic governors and Congresspeople were expecting to receive, so — predictably — those Democrats were outraged. The backlash was swift, with Democratic governors and members of Congress threatening to tank the bill before the vote in the House. Democratic leadership ultimately dropped the Covid-19 funding altogether, which they're now hoping to address in a separate bill later.

It was an embarrassing moment for Democrats that left House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seeking out Republican votes to pass the legislation because she couldn't get them from her own caucus, all after the bill was held up because Democratic leadership was negotiating the Covid-19 relief into it (despite, apparently, not having the votes). It was also confounding. Why didn't leadership expect the blowback?

Ultimately, they were able to pass the omnibus bill with bipartisan support. It was split into two packages — a defense portion that passed by a 361-69 vote, and a non-defense portion that passed by 260-171 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it’s expected to pass, and then to President Biden for his signature.

So, what is in it? A lot. So much that I actually decided to abandon today's usual format just to ensure we could address it all. The bill is over 2,700-pages long and, as with other bills of this length, is almost certainly stuffed with pork. But I went around to as many sources as I could find to try to collect as many bits and pieces of what’s included as possible. Below, I've put together as exhaustive a list as I think is appropriate for this newsletter.

Reminder: This is the bill that will fund the entire federal government for this fiscal year. For starters, it sets aside $730 billion for domestic programs (a 6.7% increase, the most in four years) and $782 billion for the military (a 5.6% increase). Democrats celebrated the increase in domestic funding while Republicans celebrated that they had stopped Democrats from cutting the defense budget and kept in place the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for most abortions. Now, the details (sources below):

  • $13.6 billion of aid to Ukraine, including military, humanitarian and economic aid.
  • 2.7% pay increase for all 2.1 million uniformed military members.
  • Funding for 13 new Navy vessels, a dozen F/A-18 Super Hornets and 85 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
  • $5 million to the survivors of a drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians.
  • $2 billion of border wall funding (no new money allocated).
  • $1.6 billion dedicated to a "free and open" Indo-Pacific.
  • $12.5 million for firearm injury and prevention research.
  • An additional $1.45 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to handle migrant crossings on the Southern border. The money will go to overtime costs for staff, medical care for migrants, and funding for nonprofits that shelter migrants.
  • In an effort to prepare for another pandemic, $845 million for the Strategic National Stockpile (an increase of $140 million) and $745 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (an increase of $148 million).
  • $675 million increase in the IRS budget, the largest in two decades.
  • $550 million invested into the rural broadband loan program.
  • An increase in House lawmakers’ budgets of 21%, to $774.4 million, the largest increase since 1996. This will be used to give congressional staff, long described as underpaid and overworked, a raise. It also provides $18.2 million in funding for interns.
  • $602.5 million for the U.S. Capitol Police, an increase of $87 million, to help hire more officers and civilian staff, as a response to Jan. 6.
  • $17.5 billion for high-poverty K-12 schools, an increase of $1 billion, the largest in a decade. Funding for Head Start will increase by $289 million, to $11 billion.
  • $26.9 billion in funding for child nutrition programs, an increase of $1.77 billion above what was approved in 2021.
  • $53.7 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a $4 billion increase from 2021. The bill also creates 25,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers for low-income individuals and families at risk of homelessness, including survivors of domestic violence and veterans. Eligible people could use the vouchers to find their own housing and pay rent.
  • $14.1 billion for the Interior Department, a $776 million increase Democrats wanted for more robust conservation efforts and to launch a Civilian Climate Corps.
  • $3.26 billion for the National Park service, a $142 million increase.
  • $1.41 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, $101 million above current spending.
  • $1.64 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, an increase of $62 million.
  • Pell Grants, used to help undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs, will see an increase to the maximum offering by $400, to $6,895 a year.
  • $568.7 million in additional funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, bringing the total budget to $2.6 billion to prevent cyberattacks.
  • $75 million for election security grants to bolster state efforts to improve integrity of elections for federal office. $20 million of operating expenses for the Election Assistance Commission, an increase of $3 million.
  • $44.9 billion for the Department of Energy, an increase of approximately $2.9 billion.
  • $3.2 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, an increase of $3.2 million.
  • $24 billion in NASA funding, $760 million below the Biden administration’s request.
  • $45 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a $2.25 billion increase, including $1 billion to speed up research on ALS, Alzheimers, diabetes and cancer.
  • $9.5 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including an increase in their core science and environmental funding of about $224 million to $3.5 billion.
  • $4.35 billion for State and Tribal Assistance Grants, a $38 million increase.
  • $2.77 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds, which equals current funding.
  • $1.23 billion for the Superfund program, a $27 million increase.
  • $92 million for diesel emissions reduction grants, a $2 million increase.
  • $587 million for geographic conservation programs, like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.
  • $539 million for environmental monitoring and compliance work.
  • $100 million for environmental justice programs, according to a fact sheet, an increase of over $12 million from current spending.
  • $8.5 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase of $582 million.
  • $83 million for safe motherhood and infant health, an increase of $20 million.
  • $212 million for mental health resources for children and youth, an increase of $25 million.
  • $6.9 billion to the National Cancer Institute’s budget, an increase of $353 million, much of which is dedicated to the so-called "cancer moonshot."
  • $73 million for the Urban Indian Health Program.
  • $10.3 billion for health, education, public safety, and other trust and treaty responsibilities throughout Indian Country.
  • $52 million ($10 million above 2021 enacted levels) for Climate Adaptation Science Centers.
  • $36 million for Urban and Community Forestry.
  • $180 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • $370 million for enhanced security in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Oman.
  • Up to $500 million, specifically, designated for Jordan and its military to enhance security along its border.

Anything else? Yup. The bill also unlocks a ton of funding from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, meaning bridge and road repairs, as well as climate resilience money, are about to get moving. It also re-authorizes the Violence Against Women Act, a bill to combat domestic violence and sexual assault that President Biden wrote as a senator in 1994 and which lapsed in 2018. The legislation also closes a loophole on e-cigs that allowed them to avoid strict FDA regulation.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, the bill ushers in the return of earmarks. Earmarks are sometimes called member-directed spending, pork, pork-barrelling, bacon, fat, or fluff. Generally speaking, earmarks are funding or projects in their districts that get inserted into legislation at the request of a senator or representative in an effort to earn that member’s vote.

The return of earmarks is a huge deal, and means members are once again able to slip pet projects into major legislation like this (or use them as a negotiating tactic). In February of 2021, we covered the debate on earmarks and whether they were a good thing or not.

Sources: The actual bill, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, Roll Call, Breitbart News, Punchbowl News, Space.com, Politico, Military Times, Bloomberg Law, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), E&E Daily, and TIME Magazine.


Some opinions.

Frankly, there wasn't a lot out there. But a few caught my eye.

On the right, Henry Olsen wrote that Congress is once again sticking it to future generations by increasing federal government spending without providing a way to pay for it. Paul Mango said that linking more Covid-19 funding to the relief for Ukraine was disgraceful and unnecessary, saying Biden squandered the Covid-19 funding he had. Sean Moran said the bill contains "many leftist, woke, and climate change carveouts."

On the left, Jonathan Katz said the Ukraine funding was critical and it needs to meet the moment. Steve Benen wrote about the importance of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and how Republicans had snuffed the law for two years. In 2021, Catherine Rampell wrote a very relevant piece about the people fighting to starve the Internal Revenue Service, and the need to bolster that funding, noting that audit rates of the wealthy and large corporations have plummeted.


My take.

This whole thing is befuddling to me.

In a normal, sane news cycle, this would be the biggest domestic story of the year so far. I mean, just look at how much is stuffed into this bill, how much spending is changing, how many important political issues are touched. And yet, on the front pages of the major newspapers and the digital publications that cater to the left and right, there is very little — in some cases, nothing at all. In The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Fox News, I found precisely two opinion or commentary pieces tied to this legislation that were published in the last couple of days.

And in the more partisan news outlets, it was sometimes non-existent.

National Review homepage:

The Nation homepage:

The Washington Examiner homepage:

Slate homepage:

I know what is happening in Ukraine is the number one story in the world right now. Trust me: We've covered it over and over.

But still, the biggest takeaway I have is just the total lack of interest in actual legislation these days — the fact that the House just approved $1.5 trillion of spending and very few journalists and pundits are even discussing it, let alone normal U.S. citizens.

And, by the way, that's true of the Biden administration too: I know the bill hasn't been signed yet, and maybe when it is their press team will go overtime on promoting it, but there is a lot here from a PR perspective. Billions of new funding for programs that address poverty and hunger. Billions more for the EPA and climate change issues. Billions for the national parks. Hundreds of millions for rural broadband. All the kinds of things the Biden administration said it would do, and right now it seems like Republicans are dominating the messaging with celebrations on military funding and preserving the Hyde Amendment.

All told: This is a huge day for the American people. And worth reading through this stuff more than once. My hope is that, as the bill makes it to President Biden's desk, there will be a lot more commentary on it and we'll get to revisit it in one or two more newsletters.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: If I understand correctly, you are Jewish. How do you reconcile your support for homosexuality and transgender individuals with your faith (which explicitly condemns such behavior)?

— Brad, Wooster, Ohio

Tangle: I've gotten this question before but it feels like a good one to answer right now.

First, let me just point out that the Talmud teaches us to “Acustom your tongue to say: I do not know,” as a way of preserving credibility in our lives. Sometimes, we are even encouraged to frame knowing that we don’t know as the highest level of knowledge. I love this concept, and I think (hope) that many of you see this intellectual humility come through in my work. It is a very inspiring piece of scripture for me. And I'd like to encourage all of us — religious and non-religious — to embrace that attitude.

I believe that the real abomination is homophobia and bigotry. Most Judeo-Christian religious people's belief that homosexuality is prohibited comes from Leviticus 18:22, where the men of Israel are warned not to lie with other men as they do with their wives since that is a toeiva. An orthodox rabbi I learned under named Mike Moskowitz has written about this passage extensively, and the reasons why he believes toeiva does not translate to "abomination," but actually is closer to "deceitfulness." In other words, the prohibition is not on men lying with men, it's on deceiving your wife. He cites many examples throughout the Old Testament to prove his point. To quote his writing:

"Being gay itself is not a toeiva. Forcing people to live a life of deception is. It is indeed abhorrent and an abomination. Similarly, the Code of Jewish Law frames the prohibition of two women being together as an extramarital affair. It doesn’t instruct mothers or teachers to inform young women about a prohibition but rather that husbands should warn their wives... There is no sin in being gay just as there is no mitzvah in being straight because both just are. No person today is forbidden to be; we must celebrate people being.”

He makes a very similar and compelling argument when it comes to trans issues:

They insist: “It can’t be that G-d put someone in the wrong body. G-d doesn’t make mistakes. It’s sacrilegious to change the body that G-d gave you,” and so on. No one would say this about a heart defect, deviated septum, or inflamed appendix – in part because the Torah teaches us in this week’s portion: “ורפא ירפא ” and be healed. The Talmud explains that this is the scriptural permission given to physicians offering treatment to change something that G-d has created.

My faith is a pretty personal thing that I don't discuss a whole lot, but I think (as with many people) there are parallels of it in my politics: I am a Jew, yes. Rather straightforward. But my views on religion are incongruent. I am both skeptical of organized religions and have a deep connection to some synagogues and Jewish communities I operate in. I’m deeply reliant on science to inform my worldview but I also find it absurd to think that this (looks around in wonder) is all an accident. I practice Judaism and pray, but I also carry a deep skepticism for some of the modern religious beliefs that have been translated hundreds of times over thousands of years to somehow land in places like "gay people are going to hell."

In short: I think there is actually a great deal of scripture, however under-discussed, that should compel any person of faith to support the LGBTQ community. And I think the idea that Judaism "explicitly condemns" homosexuality or transgenderism is actually a damaging misinterpretation, and a product of culture war and homophobia, not scripture.

P.S. I once interviewed Rabbi Moskowitz on my podcast, where we discussed these very issues. You can listen to that here.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Pew just conducted a "great resignation" survey to understand why so many people quit their jobs in 2021. The top reason? Low pay. No opportunities for advancement, being disrespected at work, lack of child care, poor benefits, and inflexibility with hours also came in as top reasons. This is one of the first major surveys on the topic, and comes after a record number of Americans quit their jobs in 2021 (the pace has slowed just slightly in 2022). 78% of respondents who said they quit their jobs also said they are employed, implying many left for better offers and/or opportunities. Pew has the research here.


Numbers.

I think we’ve had enough numbers for today.

What are some of the most interesting numbers you've seen in the news recently?

Reply to this email and share them with us!


Have a nice day.

I was proud to read this the other day: America was the world's most generous country in the past decade, according to the World Giving Index. The survey covered 1.3 million people in 125 countries and found that 72% of Americans say they help strangers and 42% volunteer. And guess what? We got more generous during the pandemic, as 2020 and 2021 donations both topped 2019 numbers. 60% of Americans gave money to a cause last year, and the average donation was $574. Axios has the story.


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