Andrew Taylor

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.

GOP advances tax overhaul; shutdown still a threat

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans held together and shoved their signature tax overhaul a crucial step ahead Nov. 28 as wavering GOP senators showed a growing openness. But its fate remained uncertain, and a planned White House summit aimed at averting a government shutdown was derailed when President Donald Trump savaged top Democrats and declared on Twitter, “I don’t see a deal!” “It’s time to stop tweeting and start leading,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer retorted after he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuffed the budget meeting with Trump and top Republicans. Trump lunched with GOP senators at the Capitol and declared it a “love fest,” as he had his previous closed-doors visit. But the day underscored the party’s yearlong problem of unifying behind key legislation — even a bill slashing corporate taxes and cutting personal taxes that’s a paramount party goal. The Nov. 28 developments also emphasized the leverage Democrats have as Congress faces a Dec. 8 deadline for passing legislation to keep federal agencies open while leaders seek a longer-term budget deal. Republicans lack the votes to pass the short-term legislation without Democratic support. In a party-line 12-11 vote, the Senate Budget Committee managed to advance the tax measure to the full Senate as a pair of wavering Republicans — Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Tennessee’s Bob Corker — fell into line, at least for the moment. In more good news for the GOP, moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said it was a “fair assumption” that she was likelier to support the bill after saying Trump agreed to make property taxes up to $10,000 deductible instead of eliminating that break entirely. But the fate of the legislation remained uncertain as it headed toward debate by the full Senate, which Republicans control by a slender 52-48. GOP leaders can afford just two defectors, and a half dozen or more in their party have been uncommitted. They include some wanting bigger tax breaks for many businesses but others cringing over the $1.4 trillion — or more — that the measure is projected to add to budget deficits over the next decade. “It’s a challenging exercise,” conceded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He compared it to “sitting there with a Rubik’s Cube and trying to get to 50” votes, a tie that Vice President Mike Pence would break. Corker, who’s all but broken with Trump over the president’s behavior in office, is among a handful of Republicans uneasy over the mountains of red ink the tax measure is expected to produce. He said he was encouraged by discussions with the White House and party leaders to include a mechanism — details still unknown — to automatically trigger tax increases if specified, annual economic growth targets aren’t met. “I think we’re getting to a very good place on the deficit issue,” Corker said. But other Republicans are wary of backing legislation that would hold the hammer of potential future tax cuts over voters’ heads. “I am not going to vote to automatically implement tax increases on the American people. If I do that, consider me drunk,” said Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana. Collins said she’d also won agreement that before completing the tax measure, Congress would approve legislation restoring federal payments to health insurers that Trump scuttled last month. That bill has had bipartisan support, but it’s unclear if Democrats would back it amid partisan battling over the tax bill. McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., met with Trump at the White House despite the top Democrats’ no-shows. Trump highlighted their absence by appearing before reporters flanked by two empty chairs bearing Schumer’s and Pelosi’s names. Trump said Democrats would be to blame for any shutdown, despite GOP domination of government. “If it happens it’s going to be over illegals pouring into the country, crime pouring into the country, no border wall, which everyone wants,” he said. He also said North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile Nov. 28 should prompt Democrats to renew negotiations over the spending legislation, which includes Pentagon funding. “But probably they won’t because nothing to them is important other than raising taxes,” Trump said. Democrats noted that in May, Trump tweeted the country “needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” In a tweet of her own Nov. 28, Pelosi said Trump’s “verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated,” adding in reference to the empty-chairs show, “Poor Ryan and McConnell relegated to props. Sad!” A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid to help Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is also expected to be included in that measure, as well as renewed financing for a children’s health program that serves more than 8 million low-income children. Democrats are also pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as “Dreamers.” Conservative Republicans object to including that issue in the crush of year-end business. But GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida joined Democrats in saying he won’t vote for the spending bill unless the immigrant issue is resolved. AP reporters Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed.

Senate GOP tentatively agrees to $1.5T plan on tax cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans are zeroing in on a tax outline that would add about $1.5 trillion to the government’s $20 trillion debt over 10 years, justifying the spurt of red ink with promises of surging economic growth and a burst of new revenues. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a member of the chamber’s dwindling band of deficit hawks, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., one of the chamber’s more ardent believers that tax cuts can pay for themselves, said they sealed an agreement on Sept. 19. The $1.5 trillion figure, confirmed by congressional officials familiar with the agreement, would allow deeper cuts to tax rates than would be allowed if Republicans followed through on earlier promises that their upcoming tax overhaul wouldn’t add to the deficit. It’s likely to be announced on Sept. 20. The agreement would represent an about-face for Capitol Hill GOP leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who for months have promised that the GOP tax overhaul would not add to the budget deficit, currently estimated to hit about $700 billion this year. The broad-brush tax cut number, if approved by the Senate, would pave the way for the Senate’s tax writers to slice corporate and individual tax rates and curb tax breaks in hopes of boosting economic growth to 3 percent or more as promised by President Donald Trump. Corker had pressed for a lower figure, saying he didn’t want the GOP tax plan to cause the debt to spiral further. Now, he’s taking a more generous view of so-called dynamic scoring, which takes the economic effects of legislation into account when determining its impact on the government’s books. “We hope this is highly pro-growth. We hope, by the way, that Congress will be firm in closing loopholes,” Corker said. “Honestly, that worries me the most about all of this.” The divide between the Senate GOP’s deficit hawk and “supply side” wings had taken weeks to resolve. Republicans preached a hard line on the deficit while Barack Obama was president but are taking a more lenient approach now that Trump is occupying the Oval Office, promising a huge budget boost for the military and signaling an openness to working with Democrats to increase domestic agency budgets, too. Unlike the House, Senate Republicans aren’t planning to pair the tax measure with spending cuts. The work of the budget panel is critical since Republicans need to agree on a budget plan in order to pass follow-up tax legislation without fear of a filibuster by Democrats. But both House and Senate Republicans are divided and the budget debate is months behind schedule. Earlier Sept. 19, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., one of the budget panel’s more ardent advocates of tax cuts, said a 10-year, $1.5 trillion tax cut “ought to be a minimum.” Proponents of strict government spending policies swiftly condemned the apparent agreement, warning of further ballooning of the national debt. “With the U.S. in such a dangerous fiscal situation, policymakers shouldn’t even consider voluntarily adding another $1.5 trillion to our national debt,” Michael Peterson, president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said in a statement. “Reaching $20 trillion in debt should be a wake-up call to solve our fiscal challenges, not an invitation to add to the problem.” Many Republicans in Washington promise that cutting corporate and individual rates and ridding the code of inefficient tax breaks, deductions and preferences will boost the economy and cause a burst of new revenue. But the outlines of their tax plan itself remain secret, and it’s not clear how successful they will be in cleaning up the loophole-choked tax code. Congress’ impartial scorekeepers have accepted the premise of such dynamic scoring, but past studies by the Joint Tax Committee and Congressional Budget Office have been cautious about how much economic growth and tax revenues would follow tax cuts. Only Sept. 18, Corker opposed an overwhelmingly popular defense measure that would smash the budget, saying “the inability to get our fiscal house in order is the greatest threat to our country.” The development also means, under the tricky Senate rules governing fast-track debate on the budget and taxes, some of the provisions in the upcoming tax measure would have to be temporary.

Trump: Government ‘needs a good shutdown’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared May 2 the U.S. government “needs a good shutdown” this fall to fix a “mess” in the Senate, signaling on Twitter his displeasure with a bill to keep operations running. But Republican leaders and Trump himself also praised the stopgap measure as a major accomplishment and a sign of his masterful negotiating with Democrats. On the defensive, Trump and his allies issued a flurry of contradictory statements ahead of key votes in Congress on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government at full speed through September. After advocating for a future shutdown, the president hailed the budget agreement as a boost for the military, border security and other top priorities. “This is what winning looks like,” Trump said during a ceremony honoring the Air Force Academy football team. “Our Republican team had its own victory — under the radar,” Trump said, calling the bill “a clear win for the American people.” Late in the day, the White House said he would indeed sign the bill. Yet Trump’s morning tweets hardly signaled a win and came after Democrats gleefully claimed victory in denying him much of his wish list despite being the minority party. They sounded a note of defeat, blaming Senate rules for a budget plan that merited closing most government operations. But the White House then rallied to make the case to the public — and perhaps to a president who famously hates losing — that he actually had prevailed in the negotiations. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney briefed reporters twice within a few hours to adamantly declare the administration’s success. He was joined at his second briefing by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. And Trump himself used the normally non-political football ceremony to proclaim his own success. Mulvaney, criticizing Democrats for celebrating, said Trump was “frustrated with the fact that he negotiated in good faith with the Democrats and they went out and tried to spike the football to make him look bad.” Asked how the president would define a “good shutdown,” Mulvaney suggested “it would be one that fixes this town.” Trump’s embrace of such a disruptive event came days after he accused Senate Democrats of seeking that same outcome and obstructing majority Republicans during budget negotiations. Lawmakers announced Sunday they had reached an agreement to avoid a shutdown until Oct. 1 — a deal that does not include several provisions sought by Trump, including money for a border wall. It also came at the start of a week in which the House is considering a possible vote on a health care overhaul that would repeal and replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The spending bill was set for a House vote on May 3, when it’s likely to win widespread bipartisan support, though a host of GOP conservatives will oppose the measure, calling it a missed opportunity. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin defended the package, calling it an “important first step in the right direction” that included a “big down payment” on border security and the military. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the bill “delivers some important conservative wins.” In fact, the White House on Monday had praised the deal as a win for the nation’s military, health benefits for coal miners and other Trump priorities. But by May 2, the president sounded off on Twitter. “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” He added that we “either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 (percent). Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” That contradicted Trump’s message of less than a week ago. On April 27, Trump had tweeted that Democrats were threatening to close national parks as part of the negotiations “and shut down the government. Terrible!” He also tweeted at the time that he had promised to “rebuild our military and secure our border. Democrats want to shut down the government. Politics!” His May 2 tweets about Senate procedures came after Senate Republicans recently triggered the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold for confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. That change allowed the Senate to hold a final vote to approve Gorsuch with a simple majority, an approach that has not been used for legislation. Top Senate Republicans dismissed the idea of changing filibuster rules for a spending bill. “It would fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time,” McConnell said. “We’re not going to do that.” Any future shutdown would likely cost the federal government billions of dollars. The 16-day partial shutdown in 2013 cost $24 billion, according to Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. That included lost revenue for the national parks. “President Trump may not like what he sees in this budget deal, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible to respond by calling for a shutdown,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the spending agreement came from a “bipartisan negotiation,” adding, “The leaders — Democrat, Republican, House and Senate — work well together. And why ruin that?” Throughout the day, the White House and congressional Republicans pressed to reverse a Washington narrative that the catchall bill is a win for Democrats. Mulvaney cited a $15 billion infusion of defense spending — about half of what Trump asked for in March — as a huge win. He also claimed credit for $6 billion in war funding approved by former President Obama as a Trump win. He also cited $1.5 billion in emergency money for border security. He correctly noted that the administration succeeded in breaking the link — forged over several Obama-era spending deals — that required that any increases in military spending be matched by an equal, dollar-for-dollar increase for nondefense programs.
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