Spending Bill Unveiled in Congress as Shutdown Deadline Looms

Updated on
  • Plan has money for border fences but not wall Trump is seeking
  • Bipartisan deal struck between top Republicans, Democrats
Rep. Cuellar Says House 'Very Close' on Spending Deal

Congress moved a step closer to avoiding another government shutdown with the release Wednesday of a $1.3 trillion spending bill designed to appeal to Republicans and Democrats with more money for border security, infrastructure and the military.

The proposal includes $1.6 billion for border security, including money for fencing and levees, though that’s only a fraction of the $25 billion that President Donald Trump wanted to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The compromise spending proposal, unveiled after repeated delays and all-night bargaining sessions, also has a provision to require stricter reporting by federal agencies to the database for gun-buyer background checks as well as $21 billion for infrastructure projects and an additional $4 billion to combat opioid addiction.

The House may vote on the measure as soon as Thursday, though that schedule could slip. The Senate would follow. Current government funding runs out at the end of the day Friday. Congress may still have to pass a stopgap funding bill to keep the government operating if there are any delays in either chamber.

The measure likely will be the last major piece of legislative business accomplished by lawmakers before they turn attention to the November elections that will decide control of Congress.

‘Wins Delivered’

House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a summary of the spending legislation to Trump at the White House Wednesday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky joined the meeting, which included Vice President Mike Pence, by telephone.

Both Ryan’s office and the White House released statements afterward saying the president and the two congressional leaders discussed their support for the legislation. The statement from the speaker’s office said they had a conversation “about the wins delivered for the president” in the bill.

“We feel like we’re in a very good place,” Ryan, of Wisconsin, said earlier in the day after a meeting with congressional leaders from both parties.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and his House counterpart, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, echoed the sentiment. “I think we will present to our members something they can comfortably support,” Pelosi said.

Democratic Votes

Ryan and McConnell likely will have to rely on Democrats to help pass the bill because some Republican conservatives object to higher spending levels that are at the center of the deal, as well as other provisions.

Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said that it was “troublesome” that leaders were trying to push it though the House a day after releasing the bill. “There is not a single member of Congress that can actually read it."

Senator John Kennedy said he was leaning toward voting against the spending plan based on what he knew about it, adding that as of Wednesday afternoon he knew very little.

"I feel like I’m a victim of mushroom management -- keep me in the dark and feed me manure," the Louisiana Republican said.

Higher Spending

The measure would increase spending on the military by $80 billion and on domestic programs by $63 billion over previous budget limits set out in the bipartisan budget agreement that ended a February shutdown. In addition to the $1.2 trillion in overall funding that was agreed to in February, the military would receive $71 billion in war funds not subject to budget caps.

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. are big winners in the bill, which funds more of their warplanes than the Pentagon requested.

One of the biggest obstacles to reaching the agreement was the status of funding for a Hudson River tunnel between New York and New Jersey. Advocates, mainly Democrats and Republicans representing the two states, argued it is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the U.S. But Trump has insisted on removing money for the project, known as Gateway, from the spending plan.

The spending agreement omits language steering money to the Gateway project, although the project could access about half the funds supporters are seeking -- as much as $541 million -- through other accounts, one congressional aide said. Additional funding would be available to the project through Amtrak and grants that don’t require approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the aide said.

The provision on background checks was added in response to recent mass shootings, including one last month at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Gun Research

The spending deal also permits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes of gun violence, after more than 20 years of restrictions that prevented the agency from doing so.

Also included is $75 million this year to train teachers and school officials to respond to attacks, pay for metal detectors and other equipment, and create anonymous systems for reporting possible threats to schools. Between 2019 and 2028, $100 million a year would be provided.

The bill would contain funding to combat Russian interference in this year’s elections, and it would provide more than $600 million to build a new rural broadband network.

Also included is a modification to the new tax-cut law passed last December that was sought by some agricultural groups. The current law contains a provision that promoted sales to farm co-ops at the expense of grain companies.

The bill includes a provision allowing the U.S. to make agreements with foreign countries for dealing with cross-border requests for data by law enforcement. Big tech companies and the Justice Department support the provision, although the issue has pitted companies including Microsoft Corp. against the Trump administration at the Supreme Court. The measure has also drawn concern from some civil liberties groups.

A plan supported by Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to help stabilize insurance premiums on Obamacare’s troubled exchanges was left out of the broad spending deal. Attempts to get an agreement collapsed over Democratic objections to abortion-funding restrictions demanded by Republicans.

While lawmakers worked on the spending measure, prospects for other major legislation this year -- including a farm bill, an overhaul of the Dodd-Frank banking law and an infrastructure package -- have worsened over the last week. An overhaul of aviation regulation planned for the summer is unlikely to produce major changes.

— With assistance by Billy House, Allyson Versprille, John Fitzpatrick, and Ben Brody

(Updates with gun provisions starting in 17th paragraph.)
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