Over 200 House Members Voted On Massive Omnibus Bill While Away From D.C.

As members of the House of Representatives passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus bill one day before Christmas Eve, many appear to have done so from the comfort of their homes.

The 4,155-page piece of legislation would codify $858 billion in defense spending and nearly $773 billion for discretionary programs. There are 227 active proxy letters for Friday submitted by lawmakers who have designated a colleague to vote on their behalf, according to a report from the Washington Examiner, meaning that over half of the lower chamber utilized a rule intended for COVID-related absences to vote on the controversial piece of legislation.

The move likely occurs as lawmakers contend with winter weather and travel delays presenting difficulties to those visiting family ahead of Christmas.

Party leaders and members have faced criticism for allowing and participating in proxy voting. Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) drew backlash in 2020 for participating in a House Transportation Committee meeting from his boat, according to a report from the Arizona Republic. Rep. Kaialiʻi Kahele (D-HI) prompted an ethics investigation in May after he voted by proxy over 100 times; some of the votes were cast while he was giving a speech, as well as visiting a state park and a farm.

Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN) recently asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to end the rule. “Over the course of one hundred and fifteen sessions of Congress, this body convened in times of war, pandemics, and national crises alike to fulfill our constitutional duties,” he wrote. “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two and a half years ago, essential workers, blue-collar employees, first responders, food and restaurant industries, and many more have shown up to work each and every day to do their job.”

The omnibus bill nevertheless passed the House on Friday with a 225-201 vote. President Joe Biden must sign the bill on Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Senior lawmakers unveiled the text of the lengthy bill earlier this week; members of the Senate voted 70-25 on Tuesday to initiate debate and passed the legislation 68-29 on Thursday, with 18 Republicans joining their 50 Democrat-aligned colleagues in support of the package.

Among other provisions, the omnibus bill funds border security for foreign nations and offers contributions for LGBTQ pride centers. In addition to a nearly $45 billion aid package for Ukraine and other NATO members, the omnibus will fund the creation of a “Ukrainian Independence Park” in Washington D.C. Another section would designate a federal building in San Francisco as the “Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building,” while another would greenlight $3.6 million for a “Michelle Obama Trail” in Georgia.

As highlighted by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC), the bill provided $575 million for “family planning” in areas where population growth “threatens biodiversity.”

The omnibus package also contains a number of overhauls to the retirement system. Among the most significant changes is the automatic enrollment of employees in 401(k) programs for companies that offer matching benefits, according to a summary from the Senate Finance Committee. Workers would be required to enroll at a rate of 3% before contributions automatically increase by 1% each year until a 10% threshold is reached.

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