The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders unveiled a $1.7 trillion federal spending package Tuesday that will provide $858 billion next year for national defense and $45 billion for Ukraine to battle Russia’s invading armed forces.

The bill calls for a 10% funding increase for defense compared to last year and exceeds President Joe Biden’s request for Ukraine aid by about $7 billion. It also includes a 22% spending boost for veterans’ medical care in fiscal 2023, which began Oct. 1. The appropriations legislation, called an omnibus, funds the priorities and programs outlined in the recently passed 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

"Fulfilling our patriotic duty, the omnibus includes a huge increase in veterans’ health care — including for the implementation of our landmark PACT Act. The bill will also increase pay for our heroic troops and meet the basic needs of our military families," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. "Significantly, this legislation delivers another consequential round of aid to Ukraine, further supporting their fight for democracy."

Troops will see a 4.6% salary hike under the bill and an 11% increase in housing and good allowances. Funding for public school construction on military bases will more than double, according to the legislation.

The spending package also includes $5 billion in mandatory funding for the Cost of War Toxic Exposures Fund, a program created this year by the PACT Act to treat veterans exposed to burn pits and other environmental hazards.

“The combination of these funds and those made available through the discretionary appropriations in this act and other sources will fully support the administration’s request to begin implementing the PACT Act, including meeting increased health care needs and providing support for claims processing to ensure veterans are getting the care and benefits they deserve,” according to the House Committee on Appropriations.

Total spending on veterans’ medical care will reach a record $119 billion next year.

Congressional appropriators are also doling out the largest ever aid package to Ukraine as Russia’s war in that country nears the 10-month mark. The $45 billion in emergency assistance would bring security, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine to more than $110 billion. The White House had requested $37.7 billion for the latest package.

The legislation includes $11.9 billion to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine and $126.3 million to prepare for and respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in the country.

U.S. European Command, which surged in size following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, will get $7 billion under the bill for mission and intelligence support, pay, equipment and related activities.

The legislation allocates $173 billion for U.S. military personnel worldwide, funding an active-duty end strength of 1,316,944 troops and a Reserve and National Guard component of 770,400. The funding amount is $1.2 billion less than requested by the White House and $5.8 billion more than allotted in fiscal 2022.

Congressional appropriators are providing full funding to the military’s suicide prevention and sexual assault programs, including $479 million to implement the recommendations of a commission on sexual assault and $47 million for a victim support program. Lawmakers are also directing the Defense Department to address white supremacy and other extremist ideologies within military ranks, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

A resettlement program for Afghans who helped the U.S. during its 20-year war in Afghanistan will be extended through 2024 after last-minute negotiations. The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program had been stripped from the 2023 defense authorization bill, a policy blueprint for the defense budget, but is being reinstated in the spending bill with authorization for an additional 4,000 visas.

The funding package must pass both congressional chambers by the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate is expected to take up the bill first, followed by a vote in the House.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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