U.S. capitol building zrfphoto/ThinkstockPhotos

Congressional leaders reach agreement on budget

Voting set to start this afternoon.

by Erik Wasson and Anna Edgerton

Congressional leaders released a $1.3 trillion government spending plan for the rest of the fiscal year and asked lawmakers to begin voting on it with only hours to read and analyze the 2,232-page text. 

The measure is wide-ranging, with funds for fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, combating opioid addiction and building new roads, along with incentives to bolster reporting to a database for gun-buyer background checks. 

Although lawmakers had six weeks to come up with a deal, the final version didn’t emerge until late Wednesday night, two days before government funding is set to expire. The rushed process drew objections from some Republicans who said they wanted more time to examine what’s in the measure and raised the risk Congress could trip into another brief government shutdown. 

“I have complete respect for our leadership, but when they foist this on us with less than 36 hours, I think it’s very irresponsible,” said Representative Ted Budd, a North Carolina Republican. “This is ridiculous, it doesn’t do the promises we said it does, and it does so many of the things we said it wouldn’t do." 

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 until the overall spending measure gets final approval. Without passage of the spending legislation or a temporary measure, the government would shut down -- for the third time this year -- because lawmakers couldn’t meet a deadline.

The House plans to vote on the bill on Thursday after noon.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivered a summary of the bill to President Donald 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.

Trump claimed some measure of victory, citing money for border security and some $700 billion for military funding -- “most ever,” he tweeted late Wednesday. “Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment.”

The spending bill was written to adhere to budget caps set by a bipartisan budget deal reached in February.

Democratic Votes 

GOP congressional leaders likely will have to rely on Democrats to help pass the bill. Some Republican conservatives said they plan to vote against the measure because of higher spending levels as well as other provisions.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and his House counterpart, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, signaled their support for the measure.

“I think we will present to our members something they can comfortably support,” Pelosi said.

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.

Conservative Opposition

Conservative lawmakers were most vocal in their opposition to the measure. 

Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called it “very, very troublesome” that leaders were trying to push the bill though the House a day after releasing it.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who triggered a brief shutdown last month by delaying a vote on a stopgap funding bill as a protest against higher government spending, said earlier in the day he hadn’t decided how he’d vote.

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 latest 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.

Gun Violence 

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

The spending deal 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. In exchange, Democrats won a provision bolstering low-income housing tax credits.

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.

The bill would extend National Flood Insurance Program through July 31, setting up a fight over changes to the program before the August congressional recess. 

--With assistance from Jack Fitzpatrick, Laura Litvan and Justin Sink.

To contact the reporters on this story: Erik Wasson in Washington at [email protected]; Anna Edgerton in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at [email protected]

Justin Blum, Laurie Asséo

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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