$407M put aside to combat Western wildfires
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers on Monday unveiled a huge $1 trillion-plus spending bill that would fund most government operations through September but denies 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 pre-dawn hours Monday and is tentatively scheduled for a House vote on Wednesday.
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 the wall along the U.S.-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.
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 and infrastructure grants.
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 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-N.Y., 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.”
Trump said at nearly every campaign stop last year that Mexico would pay for the 2,000-mile (3218.54-kilometer) border wall, a claim Mexican leaders have repeatedly rejected. The administration sought some $1.4 billion in U.S. 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 the measure to avert a government shutdown. It’s unclear, however, how much support the measure will receive from GOP conservatives 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, President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“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,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement that nonetheless fell short of endorsing the bill outright.
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 help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico with its Medicaid burden, a top Pelosi priority.
The California Democrat and others in her party came up short of the $500 million or so they had sought but won $295 million for the island, more than Republicans had initially offered.
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.
House Republicans succeeded in funding a private school vouchers program for students in Washington, D.C.’s troubled school system through 2019.
GOP leaders demurred from 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.
Democrats praised a $2 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health — a rejection of the steep cuts proposed by Trump — as well as additional funding to combat opioid abuse, fund Pell Grants for summer school, and additional transit funding. Senate forces, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and several Appalachia region Democrats, won a provision to extend health care for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families, financed in part by changes to welfare.
For instance, the measure contains a $2 billion disaster aid fund, $407 million to combat Western wildfires, and additional grants for transit projects, along with $100 million in emergency funding to fight the nation’s opioid crisis.
The bill increases Amtrak’s budget by $105 million to $1.5 billion, awards the FBI with a 3 percent budget increase, and maintains funding for an Obama-founded grant program for transportation grants at $500 million. It also provides $85 million to replace Tomahawk missiles fired in Trump’s Syria assault and adds $50 million for new fencing around the White House. It also taps $68 million to reimburse New York City and other local governments for unexpected costs involved in protecting Trump Tower and other properties.
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