Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn act making consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2021, providing coronavirus emergency response and relief, and for other purposes.
Enacted bythe 116th United States Congress
EffectiveDecember 27, 2020
Citations
Public lawPub.L. 116–260 (menu; GPO has not yet published law)
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 133 (United States-Mexico Economic Partnership Act) by Henry Cuellar (D-TX) on January 3, 2019
  • Committee consideration by United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs
  • Passed the House of Representatives on January 10, 2019 (voice vote)
  • Passed the Senate on January 15, 2020 (unanimous consent) with amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on December 21, 2020 (327–85 and 359-53 as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021) with further amendment
  • Senate agreed to House amendment on December 21, 2020 (92-6)
  • Signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 27, 2020

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133) is a $2.3 trillion[1] spending bill that combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2021 federal fiscal year (combining 12 separate annual appropriations bills) and prevents a government shutdown.[2][3][4] The bill is one of the largest spending measures ever enacted, surpassing the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, enacted in March 2020.[1] The legislation is the first bill to address the pandemic since April 2020.[5] According to the Senate Historical Office, at 5,593 pages, the legislation is the longest bill ever passed by Congress.[6]

The bill was passed by both houses of Congress on December 21, 2020, with large bipartisan majorities in support. The bill was the product of weeks of intense negotiations and compromise between Democrats and Republicans during the lame-duck session.[7][8][9][10] After initially criticizing the bill, President Donald Trump signed it into law on December 27.[11][12][13]

Legislative history

Background

Following the approval of some $2.5 trillion in stimulus in March and April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cautioned against any further spending.[14][a] From then until mid-October, Republicans and Democrats proposed a series of prospective bills, with support mostly along party lines, and each side voicing criticism of the other party's inclusion of special interests.[16][17][18][19] In September, a non-pandemic-related spending bill was passed to avoid a government shutdown, allowing Congress to focus on a separate relief bill.[20] On November 4, McConnell spoke in favor of passing stimulus during the lame-duck session in November and December.[21] Two days later, Larry Kudlow, the director of President Donald Trump's National Economic Council, indicated that, like McConnell, the Trump administration was interested in a targeted package smaller than $2–3 trillion.[22]

Negotiations

On December 1, McConnell implied that some form of relief would come in the spending bill for the fiscal year of 2021.[23] The next day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer endorsed a $908 billion bipartisan plan.[24][b] A number of Republican senators subsequently endorsed it, with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) saying he had discussed it "extensively" with Trump.[26]

On December 8, Mnuchin presented a $916 billion counter-proposal,[27] which Pelosi and Schumer called "unacceptable" because it reduced funding for unemployment insurance from $180 billion to $40 billion,[28] in exchange for a one-time $600 direct payment for adults and children.[29][c]

On December 11, a one-week stopgap spending bill was signed into law to allow more time to negotiate stimulus.[32][33]

The next week, two controversial measures from both parties were moved into a separate $160 billion bill called the Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protection Act of 2020. This bill included the Democrat's request for more state and local government aid, and the Republican's request for a strong COVID lawsuit liability shield for businesses.[34]

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) planned to bring to vote on December 18 a proposal for direct payments of the same amount provided by the CARES Act ($1,200 per adult making less than $75,000 annually and $500 per child),[35] but this was blocked by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).[36][37]

On December 18, a 48-hour stopgap bill was passed to keep the government funded through the weekend,[37] with a one-day stopgap bill passed to prolong voting until that Monday, December 21.[38]

At the request of Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), the bill was modified to require congressional approval of future emergency lending through the Fed, and to rescind about $429 billion in unused CARES Act funding.[39][40][41]

In order to pass the bill more quickly, Congress used H.R. 133, previously the United States-Mexico Economic Partnership Act, as a legislative vehicle, amending the bill to contain its current text.

Challenges

During the last few days, logistical challenges arose as the bill, which consisted of some 5,500 pages of text, proved difficult to physically assemble due to printer malfunctions and a corrupted computer file.[42] The file, representing the education portion of the bill, posed a problem in that all portions had to be combined into one overall file.[43] Senator John Thune (R-SD) remarked, "Unfortunately, it's a bad time to have a computer glitch."[42] The delays meant that the two votes in Congress were delayed late into the evening of December 21.[44]

Several members of both parties voiced unhappiness with such a large bill being presented to them with little time to understand what was inside it.[12] Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wrote, "It's not good enough to hear about what's in the bill. Members of Congress need to see & read the bills we are expected to vote on,"[44] and compared the process to "hostage-taking",[12] while Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX) said, "This is a tough way to legislate, to save everything til the very end and then pass a very large bill."[44] Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted that the whole process was "ABSURD".[12]

Congress passes the bill

On the evening of December 21 the votes were held, with large, bipartisan majorities supporting them.[5] The bill was split into two parts in the House, with one portion passing 327–85 and another portion 359–53.[5] The first vote, which included funding for federal agencies, was opposed by 41 Democrats and 43 Republicans.[5] The stimulus portion was in the latter vote, and was supported by Democrats by a 230–2 margin and Republicans by a 128–50 margin (two independents made up the rest).[45] Following that, there was a single vote in the Senate, which passed 92–6.[5]

Also on the night of December 21, Trump signed a weeklong stopgap bill through December 28, avoiding a shutdown while the 5,593-page legislation was being processed.[46] It was the biggest bill ever passed by Congress in terms of length of text.[6] On December 24, Congress began the official process of sending the bill to Trump.[47]

Presidential dispute and signing

President Trump signs the bill in Mar-a-Lago

Trump was largely absent from the final series of negotiations on the pandemic relief and omnibus legislation,[48][49] as he had been focusing almost exclusively on promoting his false claim that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from him.[12][48][50][51] Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other Trump administration officials were involved in the negotiations at each stage and expressed support for the final deal.[48]

In a video released on the evening of December 22, a day after the bill's passage, Trump indicated his dissatisfaction with the bill, calling it a "disgrace" and criticizing it for including what he called "wasteful and unnecessary" spending (Trump complained about the inclusion of funds for foreign aid, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Kennedy Center) and not enough pandemic relief,[d] calling the $600 individual payments "ridiculously low".[12] Trump's last-minute statement shocked Congress[50] and surprised and embarrassed administration officials, including Mnuchin, who was heavily involved in the negotiations.[12] In the video, Trump complained about various spending line items in the bill for not being related to COVID-19, but these expenditures were part of the regular annual (fiscal year 2021) appropriations, not the COVID-19 stimulus portion of the bill.[48][52] Moreover, the budget items that Trump complained about were part of Trump's own budget proposal for the year,[52] and were similar to budget provisions in previous budgets signed by Trump.[48]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that, if Trump vetoed the bill, the Senate was prepared to convene on December 29 for an override vote.[53]

On the night of December 22, Trump asked Congress to send him a version of the bill with $2,000 rather than $600 individual payments. House Speaker Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled Democratic support of this change, while Senate Minority Leader Schumer encouraged Trump to sign the current bill, stating that "we're glad to pass more aid" at a later date.[54] If no agreement can be reached, the government may shut down, and according to Trump, "the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package and maybe that administration will be me".[55][56][57] It was speculated that Trump might use a pocket veto.[49]

The president left for his Mar-a-Lago estate on December 23, leaving his intentions unclear.[50] On December 24, House Democrats tried to pass, by unanimous consent, legislation to increase the size of the stimulus checks to $2,000,[58] but House Republicans blocked the proposed increase.[59][60] Many figures in both parties urged Trump to sign the bill,[61][62] and planned fallback strategies to keep the government open in case he did not.[63]

Two kinds of pandemic relief payments, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, expired on the morning of December 27.[64] On the evening of December 27, after coming under heavy pressure from Democrats and Republicans, Trump signed the bill into law without his demands being met.[65] [66] Upon signing the bill, Trump released a statement containing various false statements and grievances.[65] Trump indicated that he would create "a redlined version" of the bill accompanied by a "formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill."[67] Congress is not expected to act on this request.[65] Trump's delay of nearly a week in signing the bill held up $900 billion in emergency relief funds,[65] and because he did not sign the bill a day earlier, millions of Americans enrolled in unemployment programs are unlikely to receive a payment for the final week of 2020.[66]

CASH Act

On December 28, the House passed the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help Act (CASH Act), a standalone bill to increase direct payments to $2,000[68] for those who make under $75,000 annually. It would phase out for those who make up to $115,000.[69] Projected to cost $464 billion,[70] the House passed the bill by just over the two-thirds majority vote necessary, under a suspension of the rules.[71][72][73]

On December 29, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer moved to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.[74] Later that day, McConnell introduced legislation combining increased payments with two other Trump demands: a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which the president had wanted to include in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021), and the establishment of a voter fraud study commission.[75][e] McConnell later claimed that Trump had requested these items to be tied to the stimulus checks, but there is no record of this.[76] Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has cautioned against sinking the $2,000 stimulus checks with "poison pills".[75] On December 31, Schumer again tried to pass the bill by unanimous consent, which was again blocked by McConnell. Schumer suggested voting on the president's other two requests separately.[77]

On December 30, McConnell criticized the CASH Act for failing to adequately phase out higher-income earners.[76][f] Bernie Sanders (with Josh Hawley's backing) tried to force a roll-call vote on the law by filibustering a vote to override Trump's veto of the 2021 defense bill.[79][80] On January 1, Schumer again called for a vote on $2,000 stimulus checks but was blocked by a Republican senator—ending prospects for the act to be approved by the 116th Congress.[81] On January 6, Schumer said the $2,000 payments were a top priority for him in the 117th Congress.[82] President-elect Joe Biden also supports increasing the payments to $2,000.[83]

Provisions

Coronavirus relief

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 is Division M of the legislation, and Division N contains additional coronavirus provisions. It is a follow-on to such actions as the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program passed in the spring of 2020, and comes after eight months of mostly little progress in negotiations between the different parties and houses of Congress.[44][84] Many of the negotiations made little progress due to strongly held policy differences being contested.[44] The incumbent president, having lost his bid for re-election, generally played little role in the later stages of the discussions.[44]

The pandemic relief portion of the bill was estimated at about $900 billion by the Associated Press.[85] On January 14, the Congressional Budget Office released its scoring with Division M as $184 billion and Division N as $682 billion, for a total of $866 billion[86] with their breakdowns.[87][88] The Associated Press' estimates were:

  • $325 billion for small businesses
    • $284 billion in forgivable loans via the Paycheck Protection Program[g]
    • $20 billion for businesses in low-income communities
    • $15 billion for economically endangered live venues, movie theaters and museums[84][2]
  • $166 billion for a $600 stimulus check, for most Americans with an adjusted gross income lower than $75,000[85][90][h]
  • $120 billion for an extension of increased federal unemployment benefits ($300 per week until March 14, 2021)[84][85]
  • $82 billion for schools and universities, including $54 billion to public K-12 schools, $23 billion for higher education; $4 billion to a Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund; and slightly under $1 billion for Native American schools[85]
  • $69 billion for vaccines, testing, and health providers[85]
    • Vaccine and treatment procurement and distribution, as well as a strategic stockpile, received over $30 billion[85]
    • Testing, contact tracing, and mitigation received $22 billion[85]
    • Health care providers received $9 billion[85]
    • Mental health received $4.5 billion[85]
  • $25 billion for a federal aid to state and local governments for rental assistance programs (also covering rent arrears, utilities, and home energy costs)[85][92]
  • $13 billion to increase the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamp) benefit by 15% through June 30, 2021[2][93]
  • $13 billion round of direct payments to the farming and ranching industry,[2][94] including
    • About $5 billion for payments of $20 per acre for row crop producers, which (according to an American Farm Bureau Federation analysis) would go to producers of corn ($1.8 billion), soybeans ($1.7 billion), wheat ($890 million), and cotton ($240 million).[94]
    • Up to $1 billion for livestock and poultry farmers, plus certain "plus-up" payments for cattle producers[94]
    • $470 million for dairy producers, plus additional $400 million for the USDA to purchase milk for processing into dairy products for donation to food banks[94]
    • $60 million for small meat and poultry processors[94]
  • $10 billion for child care (specifically, the Child Care Development Block Grant program)[85]
  • $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service (in the form of forgiveness of a previous federal loan)[85]

The legislation also extends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-imposed eviction moratorium (halting evictions for failure to pay rent for tenants with annual incomes of less than $99,000) to January 31, 2021; the moratorium had initially been set to expire at the end of 2020.[92][95]

Regular appropriations

The regular annual appropriations bills comprise Divisions A through L of the bill, and totals about $1.4 trillion.[85][96] Among these provisions are: