Final spending bill leaves out ‘dreamers,’ major wall money
WASHINGTON (AP) — Negotiators on a $1.3 trillion government spending bill dropped protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants and gave President Donald Trump only a partial victory on funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall as talks entered the final stage on March 21.
A meeting of top congressional leaders produced tentative accords on two tax provisions and a decision to strengthen the criminal background check system for gun purchases. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said an official agreement on the sweeping measure would likely come “very soon.”
GOP aides said that Trump would win $1.6 billion for a border wall and physical barriers along the border, which would construct older wall designs and repair existing segments. But Trump would be denied a more recent, far larger $25 billion request for multi-year funding for the wall project. Democrats said just $641 million would go to new segments of fencing and walls that double as levees.
Negotiators planned to unveil the massive government-wide spending bill later in the day in hopes of passing it before a March 23 midnight deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
A senior administration official said the White House is generally happy with the emerging deal. The person said the plan addresses the president’s top priorities, including a large funding increase for the military, border security measures and money to fight the opioid epidemic.
The top four leaders of both House and Senate met March 21 and emerged saying they basically had a deal.
“We’re finalizing,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters, saying the bill would shortly be made public. “We’re in a good place.”
The bill would give Trump a huge budget increase for the military, while Democrats would cement wins on infrastructure and other domestic programs that they failed to get under President Barack Obama. It funds a 2.4 percent pay raise for military personnel touted by Republicans.
The aides required anonymity because the agreement is not yet public.
Battles over budget priorities in the huge bill were all settled, while a handful of non-budget issues remained, including a GOP effort to fix a poorly drafted section of the recent tax cut law that is harming Midwestern grain companies.
At Wednesday’s meeting, GOP aides said, top leaders including Ryan agreed to fix this so-called grain glitch — while adding a tax-credit provision sought by Democrats to boost low-income housing units.
They also said the agreement would add “Fix NICS” legislation designed to beef up compliance with gun background check reporting requirements.
As expected, the measure won’t renew protections for young Dreamer immigrants facing possible deportation. It also won’t provide subsidies to insurers who cut costs for low-earning customers. And it won’t have federal payments to carriers to help them afford to cover their costliest clients.
Another fight would remove an earmark protecting money for a rail tunnel under the Hudson River that’s a top priority of Trump’s most powerful Democratic rival, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. The project would remain eligible for funding, however, and a Schumer aide said the project was likely to win well more than half of the $900 million sought for Gateway this year under rules governing various Department of Transportation accounts.
The measure on the table would provide major funding increases for the Pentagon — $80 billion over current limits — bringing the military budget to $700 billion and giving GOP defense hawks a long-sought victory.
“We made a promise to the country that we would rebuild our military. Aging equipment, personnel shortages, training lapses, maintenance lapses — all of this has cost us,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “With this week’s critical funding bill we will begin to reverse that damage.”
Domestic accounts would get a generous 10 percent increase on average as well, awarding Democrats the sort of spending increases they sought but never secured during the Obama administration.
Both parties touted $4.6 billion in total funding to fight the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, a $3 billion increase. More than $2 billion would go to strengthen school safety through grants for training, security measures and treatment for the mentally ill. Medical research at the National Institutes of Health, a longstanding bipartisan priority, would receive a record $3 billion increase to $37 billion.
Community development block grants, which are flexible funds that are enormously popular with mayors and other local officials, would receive a huge $2.4 billion increase to $5.2 billion despite being marked for elimination in Trump’s budget plan. And an Obama-era transportation grant program known as TIGER would see its budget tripled to $1.5 billion. Head Start for preschoolers would get a $610 boost, while an additional $2.4 billion would go for child care grants.
“We have worked to restore and in many cases increase investments in education, health care, opioids, NIH, child care, college affordability and other domestic and military priorities,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a key negotiator of the measure.
Agencies historically unpopular with Republicans, such as the IRS, appear likely to get increases too, in part to prepare for implementation of the Republicans’ recently passed tax measure. The Environmental Protection Agency, always a GOP target, would have its budget frozen at $8 billion.
Lawmakers agreed on the broad outlines of the budget plan last month. The legislation implementing that deal is viewed as possibly one of few bills moving through Congress this year, making it a target for lawmakers and lobbyists seeking to attach their top priorities.
And while Democrats yielded on $1.6 billion in wall funding, none of that money would go for the new prototypes that Trump recently visited in San Diego. Negotiators rejected Trump’s plans to hire hundreds of new Border Patrol and immigration enforcement agents, congressional aides said.
Republican conservatives are dismayed by the free-spending measure, which means Democratic votes are required to pass it. That gave Democrats leverage to force GOP negotiators to drop numerous policy riders that Democrats considered poison pills.