The U.S. House Passed a Federal Spending Bill With Most Anti-LGBTQ+ Riders Defeated

The House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion spending plan for 2024 on Friday, which included a Republican provision effectively banning Pride flags at U.S. embassies overseas. The bill now heads to the Senate, with hours to go before a partial government shutdown this weekend if it does not pass.

Representatives passed the more than 1,000-page appropriations bill 286-134, with 185 Democrats voting in favor, CNN noted. The bill contains funding for numerous federal departments and programs, including millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS treatment and research through programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which Republicans attempted to defund last year. But it also concedes one “culture war” front to anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans, barring the use of government funds “to fly or display a flag over a facility of the United States Department of State” other than official flags like the U.S. flag, the POW/MIA flag, or a Foreign Service flag. That provision would last until the bill’s expiration on September 30.

Policies that ban non-government flags from official poles outright have sprung up in states from California to Connecticut over the past few years, due in part to conservative campaigns at local school boards. In 2021, the Biden administration reversed a Trump-era policy that forbade Pride flags at overseas embassies, a policy Republicans immediately looked to block through legislation.

“[T]his legislation does not have everything either side may have wanted, but I am satisfied that many of the extreme cuts and policies proposed by House Republicans were rejected,” Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro said ahead of the House vote Friday.

According to an estimate by the Human Rights Campaign, 51 out of 52 anti-LGBTQ+ riders were blocked from the final bill, with only the flag ban provision remaining. The defeated riders included one that would have forced the Food and Drug Administration to defund hospitals that distribute puberty blockers to minors, another for the Department of Health and Human Services that sought to ban government funding for gender-affirming care, and multiple attempts to block funds for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.

Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a lawyer turned politician with a long record of Christian anti-LGBTQ+ activism, highlighted the flag ban as a win for conservatives in selling the bill behind closed doors, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. That didn’t stop fellow Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene from filing a motion to vacate against Johnson shortly after the vote, less than half a year after the GOP nearly failed to elect a new Speaker at all after another such motion.

The House bill allocates roughly $866 billion for the Department of Defense, per an estimate in Forbes, representing about 72% of the total budget and a $50 billion increase from the 2023 fiscal year. Opponents of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza — which has resulted in the deaths of nearly 32,000 Palestinians since October — heavily criticized the bill for explicitly blocking all funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the largest international organization providing aid to Palestine. Eighteen member nations, including the U.S., suspended UNRWA funding last year after Israeli officials claimed the agency had ties to Hamas; the agency itself has since accused Israeli soldiers of torturing staffers to extract false confessions.

On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, accused Israel of “using starvation as a weapon of war” and condemned the continued ban on funding UNRWA aid efforts.

“These are some of the most horrific crimes against humanity committed in this century,” Tlaib said, adding, “Members here — all of them — are now going to be contributing to the starvation of Palestinian families.”

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