News

UPDATE: Big Budget Deal In Senate Hailed As ‘Genuine Breakthrough’

Senate leaders have reached a budget pact to increase spending for the Pentagon and domestic programs, offering a reprieve from fiscal fights that have been a cloud over Capitol Hill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after announcing an agreement in the Senate on a two-year, almost $400 billion budget deal that would provide Pentagon and domestic programs with huge spending increases, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

Senate leaders announced Wednesday they have sealed agreement on a two-year budget pact that would shower both the Pentagon and domestic programs with almost $300 billion above existing limits, giving wins to both GOP defense hawks and Democrats seeking billions for infrastructure projects and combatting opioid abuse.

The agreement is likely to be added to a stopgap spending bill that passed the House on Tuesday, aimed at averting a government shutdown Thursday at midnight. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the Senate agreement “a genuine breakthrough.”

However, it would not resolve the plight of immigrant “Dreamers” who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. As the Senate leaders were announcing their agreement, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California was holding the floor in the House, declaring she would oppose the measure unless her chamber’s GOP leaders promised a vote on legislation to protect the younger immigrants.

That introduced doubts as to whether the plan could pass in House, where prominent GOP conservatives are also opposed to the higher spending.

The Senate agreement also contains almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

It would increase the government’s borrowing cap to prevent a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks.

The night before, the House passed legislation to keep the government running through March 23, marrying the stopgap spending measure with a $659 billion Pentagon spending plan, but the Senate plan would rewrite that measure.

Senate Democratic leaders have dropped their strategy of using the funding fight to extract concessions on immigration, specifically on seeking extended protections for the “Dreamer” immigrants. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, D-N.Y., went with a deal that would reap tens of billions of dollars for other priorities while hoping to solve the immigration impasse later.

The budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the troubled health care system for veterans.

The core of the agreement would shatter tight “caps” on defense and domestic programs funded by Congress each year. They are a hangover from a failed 2011 budget agreement and have led to military readiness problems and caused hardship at domestic agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.

The agreement would give the Pentagon an $80 billion increase for the current budget year for core defense programs, a 14 percent increase over current limits that exceeds President Trump’s request by $26 billion. Nondefense programs would receive about $60 billion over current levels. Those figures would be slightly increased for the 2019 budget year beginning Oct. 1.

“For the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It will help us serve the veterans who have bravely served us. And it will ensure funding for important efforts such as disaster relief, infrastructure, and building on our work to fight opioid abuse and drug addiction.”

Trump’s budget last year proposed a $54 billion increase for defense, proposing to slash nondefense accounts by the same amount.

Pelosi took to the House floor for more than three hours, and said she would oppose that almost-completed budget pact even though it would boost funding for many domestic priorities favored by Democrats. She declared the agreement “does not have my support, nor does it have the support of a large number of members of our caucus.”

Pelosi said the House should debate immigration legislation and noted that Senate Republicans have slated a debate on the politically freighted subject starting next week,

“Let Congress work its will,” Pelosi said. “What are you afraid of?”

__

Senate negotiators worked to finalize a long-term federal budget deal Wednesday that would avert a looming government shutdown, but the House’s top Democrat swung out against it, jeopardizing its chances.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California announced she would oppose the measure unless the chamber’s GOP leaders promised a vote on legislation to protect “Dreamer” immigrants who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Pelosi took to the House floor, promising to speak for hours, and said she would oppose that almost-completed budget pact even though it would boost funding for many domestic priorities favored by Democrats. She declared the agreement “does not have my support, nor does it have the support of a large number of members of our caucus.”

Pelosi said the House should debate immigration legislation and noted that Senate Republicans have slated a debate on the politically freighted subject starting next week,

“Let Congress work its will,” Pelosi said. “What are you afraid of?”

A government shutdown could come at midnight Thursday. The House on Tuesday passed legislation to keep the government running through March 23, marrying a stopgap spending measure with a $659 billion Pentagon spending plan, but that measure is likely to be rewritten in the Senate.

Chances of a repeat of last month’s shutdown had appeared to be fading as prospects of a budget pact grew, but Pelosi’s opposition could throw a monkey wrench into the plan. And the problem wasn’t just with Democrats.

On the right, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, also said he opposes the emerging bipartisan deal, which could be unveiled Wednesday.

“I’m afraid the numbers will get so high and the debt ceiling will be added and it will be a Christmas tree of spending — that a lot of votes will be bought,” he said on MSNBC. Meadows’ group backs big defense increases but opposes boosting domestic spending.

The deal had been picking up steam even as the president appeared to be readying for a standoff.

“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” Trump declared Tuesday.

Trump’s comments were strikingly disconnected from the apparent progress on Capitol Hill, where the House passed a short-term spending measure Tuesday night and Senate leaders were closing in on the larger, long-term pact. The broader agreement would award whopping spending increases to both the Pentagon and domestic federal programs, as well as approve overdue disaster relief money and, perhaps, crucial legislation to increase the government’s borrowing limit and avoid possible default.

Senate Democratic leaders have dropped their strategy of using the funding fight to extract concessions on immigration, specifically on seeking extended protections for the “Dreamer” immigrants who have lived in the country illegally since they were children. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., prepared to cut a deal that would reap tens of billions of dollars for other priorities — including combatting opioids — while taking their chances on solving the immigration impasse later.

Tuesday night’s 245-182 House vote, mostly along party lines, set the machinery in motion.

The budget negotiations, conducted chiefly by the Senate’s top leaders, Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have intensified in recent days.

“I think we’re on the way to getting an agreement and getting it very soon,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Prospects for dealing with immigration, however, were fuzzy as ever. The Senate is slated next week to begin a debate to address the dilemma of immigrants left vulnerable after Trump cut off former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Weeks of bargaining have left the two parties divided over how to extend protections for such immigrants. Trump has given lawmakers until March 5 to extend DACA, though a court ruling is temporarily keeping the program running.

On the budget, GOP defense hawks were prevailing over the party’s depleted ranks of deficit hawks, championing major new spending on military programs. Democrats, meanwhile, leveraged their influence to increase spending for domestic priorities.

The result could be the return of trillion-dollar deficits for the first time since Obama’s first term.

The prospective longer-term budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the troubled health care system for veterans.

The temporary funding measure would also reauthorize funding for community health centers, which enjoy widespread bipartisan support.

Aides in both parties said the budget measure may also contain a provision to raise the government’s $20.5 trillion borrowing limit. Legislation to increase the debt ceiling is always a headache, especially for House GOP leaders whose rank and file have used past votes to register objections to deficit spending.

Another likely addition is more than $80 billion in long-overdue hurricane relief for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a top priority of both parties.

It’s clear that Senate Democrats have no appetite for another government shutdown. Their unity splintered during last month’s three-day closure.

Pelosi, however, took the temperature of House Democrats at a Wednesday morning meeting, and emerged to announce her opposition to the budget plan that lacks a promise for a floor debate on immigration.

“I just can’t explain to the Dreamers or to my colleagues why we should be second-class members of Congress in this House, without a commitment from the speaker that Mitch McConnell gave to the senators, that then there would be a vote on the floor, to let Congress work its will. What are you afraid of?”

Share