Lawmakers unveil spending bill to fund govt operations
WASHINGTON: US lawmakers yesterday unveiled a huge $1 trillion-plus spending bill that would fund most government operations through September but would deny President Donald Trump money for a border wall and rejects his proposed cuts to popular domestic programs.
The 1,665-page bill agreed to on Sunday is the product of weeks of negotiations. It was made public in the predawn hours yesterday and is tentatively scheduled for a House vote tomorrow. The catchall spending bill would be the first major piece of bipartisan legislation to advance during Trump's short tenure in the White House. While losing on funding for the wall along the US-Mexico border, Trump won a $15 billion down payment on his request to strengthen the military, though that too fell short of what he requested.
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration "couldn't be more pleased" and noted that it would include a boost in military spending, a "down payment" on border security and provide money for health benefits for coal miners.
"It will avert a government shutdown but more important than that, it's going to be a significant increase in military spending," Pence said in an interview with "CBS This Morning." He called it a "budget deal that's a bipartisan win for the American people." The measure funds the remainder of the 2017 budget year, through Sept. 30, rejecting cuts to popular domestic programs targeted by Trump such as medical research, the Environmental Protection Agency, and infrastructure grants.
"The omnibus (spending bill) is in sharp contrast to President Trump's dangerous plans to steal billions from lifesaving research, instead increasing funding for the NIH (National Institutes of Health) by $2 billion," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
Successful votes later this week would also clear away any remaining threat of a government shutdown - at least until the Oct. 1 start of the 2018 budget year. Trump has submitted a partial 2018 budget promising a whopping $54 billion, 10 percent increase for the Pentagon from current levels, financed by cutting to foreign aid, the EPA, and other nondefense programs by an equal amount. Negotiators on the pending measure, however, rejected a smaller $18 billion package of cuts and instead slightly increased funding for domestic programs.
Democrats were quick to praise the deal. "This agreement is a good agreement for the American people, and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, a key force in the talks. "The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren't used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle class relies on, like medical research, education and infrastructure."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., praised the bill as well, saying it "acts on President Trump's commitment to rebuild our military for the 21st century and bolster our nation's border security to protect our homeland."
Some Republican conservatives, however, were wary. "I think you're going to see conservatives have some real concerns with this legislation," Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said on CNN, citing domestic spending obtained by Democrats and other issues. "We told (voters) we were going to do a short-term spending bill that was going to come due at the end of April so that we could fight on these very issues, and now it looks like we're not going to do that."
Trump said at nearly every campaign stop last year that Mexico would pay for the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border wall, a claim Mexican leaders have repeatedly rejected. The administration sought some $1.4 billion in US taxpayer dollars for the wall and related costs in the spending bill, but Trump later relented and said the issue could wait until September. Trump, however, obtained $1.5 billion for border security measures such as 5,000 additional detention beds, an upgrade in border infrastructure and technologies such as surveillance.
The measure is assured of winning bipartisan support in votes this week; the House and Senate have until midnight Friday to pass it to avert a government shutdown. It's unclear, however, how much support the measure will receive from GOP conservatives such as Jordan and how warmly it will be received by the White House. Democrats played a strong hand in the talks since their votes are needed to pass the bill, even though Republicans control both the White House and Congress. As a result, the measure doesn't look much different than the deal that could have been struck on President Barack Obama's watch last year.
But Republicans are eager to move on to other issues such as overhauling the tax code and reviving their moribund effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care law.
While the measure would peacefully end a battle over the current budget year, the upcoming cycle is sure to be even more difficult. Republicans have yet to reveal their budget plans, and battles between Trump and Congress over annual agency budgets could grind this summer's round of spending bills to a halt. Among the final issues resolved was a Democratic request to provide the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico with $295 million to cope with its Medicaid burden, a top Pelosi priority. House Republicans succeeded in extending a private school vouchers program for students in Washington, DC's troubled school system through 2019.
Democrats were successful in repelling many conservative policy "riders" that sought to overturn dozens of Obama-issued regulations. Such moves carry less urgency for Republicans now that Trump controls the regulatory apparatus.
GOP leaders decided against trying to use the must-do spending bill to "defund" Planned Parenthood. The White House also backed away from language to take away grants from "sanctuary cities" that do not share information about people's immigration status with federal authorities. Trump's request for additional immigration agents was denied and the IRS budget would be frozen at $11.6 billion instead of absorbing cuts sought by Republicans. -AP