Grassley, Ernst oppose big spending bill but back some provisions

The U.S. Senate completed its work for the year on December 22, when senators approved an omnibus bill to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2023.

The bill allocates $1.7 trillion in federal government spending ($858 billion for the military, and $772 billion in non-defense spending). The Washington Post broke down the funding by appropriations area.

The legislation also provides $44.9 billion more in aid to Ukraine, and $40.6 billion for disaster aid. It changes some Medicaid rules, which will preserve coverage for many new mothers and children. It also includes some policies not related to federal spending, such as reforms to the Electoral Count Act, workplace protections for pregnant or breastfeeding employees, and a ban on installing TikTok on government-owned devices.

Eighteen Republicans joined the whole Democratic caucus to pass the omnibus bill. Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were among the 29 Republicans who opposed the bill on final passage (roll call). But they supported some amendments added to the bill on December 22, as well as several GOP proposals that failed to pass.

How Iowa’s senators voted on some of the significant amendments (click here to find all Senate roll call votes):

  • Ernst voted for GOP Senator Ron Johnson’s unsuccessful attempt to eliminate $9.8 billion in earmarks from the $1.7 trillion bill; Grassley opposed that amendment.
    • Both Iowans supported another unsuccessful Johnson amendment, which would have prohibited the use of border management funds for transporting migrants.
      • Both Iowans voted for GOP Senator Mike Lee’s unsuccessful amendment, which would have kept the “Title 42” border policy in place. That policy was ostensibly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been used more than 2 million times to expel migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico.
        • Both Iowans voted for Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley’s amendment to ensure that hourly employees who are breastfeeding receive accommodations to pump and store breast milk at work. The 2010 Affordable Care Act required many large employers to provide time and space to pump at work; this amendment will expand those protections to more employees.
          • Grassley and Ernst supported Republican Senator Bill Cassidy’s amendment to increase protections for pregnant workers, with reasonable accommodations like bathroom breaks. They also voted for two GOP amendments that didn’t pass, which would have limited the reach of Cassidy’s amendment with a state immunity waiver and some kind of carve-out for religious organizations.

Last week, Grassley and Ernst joined the 83-11 majority that approved an $858 billion defense policy bill, which was included in the omnibus passed today. In addition to increasing the defense budget during the current fiscal year by $88 billion ($45 billion more than President Joe Biden requested), the measure will increase salaries for military service members and ends the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the armed services.

In a series of tweets, Ernst described the budget process as “completely broken.” But three members of Senate Republican leadership—Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Whip John Thune, and Policy Committee chair Roy Blunt—all voted for final passage of the omnibus. Ernst did express her support for more Pentagon spending and “lethal aid to Ukraine.”

The U.S. House is expected to approve the omnibus bill in time to avert a government shutdown. Iowa Republicans Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, and Randy Feenstra have all indicated they will oppose the measure. House Republicans had lobbied their Senate counterparts not to pass any long-term government funding measure before the GOP gains control of the lower chamber in early January.

Although Grassley voted against the omnibus bill, he had signed on to the Electoral Count Reform Act in August. (Ernst is not listed as a co-sponsor.)

The bill was amended in committee in September, taking into account feedback from some election lawyers. Its most important provisions are summarized here. To prevent a repeat of the events of January 6, 2021, the bill clarifies that the vice president has only a ceremonial role in counting electoral votes and cannot unilaterally reject slates from some states. It also would make it harder for Congress to object to any state’s results, because at least one-fifth of each chamber’s members would need to sign on to an objection.

UPDATE: Grassley tweeted on December 22, “I opposed the massive $1.7 trillion spending bill that’s bogged down w pork The American ppl continue to struggle w rising prices & economic uncertainty largely brought on by harmful federal policies, yet they see their govt spending their hard-earned tax dollar$ w/out restraint.”

That doesn’t explain why he opposed the amendment that would have removed all earmarks in the omnibus bill. Nor does it explain why he voted on December 20 to proceed with debating the bill. (Ernst voted against allowing the bill to move forward.)

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin