Budget Bill Talks Reach Crucial Stage 03/17 11:05
Top-level congressional talks on a $1.3 trillion catchall spending bill are
reaching a critical stage as negotiators confront immigration, abortion-related
issues and a battle over a massive rail project that pits President Donald
Trump against his most powerful Democratic adversary.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top-level congressional talks on a $1.3 trillion catchall
spending bill are reaching a critical stage as negotiators confront
immigration, abortion-related issues and a battle over a massive rail project
that pits President Donald Trump against his most powerful Democratic adversary.
The bipartisan measure is loaded with political and policy victories for
both sides. Republicans and Trump are winning a long-sought budget increase for
the Pentagon while Democrats obtain funding for infrastructure, the opioid
crisis and a wide swath of domestic programs.
The bill would implement last month's big budget agreement, providing 10
percent increases for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies when compared
with current levels. Coupled with last year's tax cut measure, it heralds the
return of trillion-dollar budget deficits as soon as the budget year starting
While most of the funding issues in the enormous measure have been sorted
out, fights involving a number of policy "riders" --- so named because they
catch a ride on a difficult-to-stop spending bill --- continued into the
weekend. Among them are GOP-led efforts to add a plan to revive federal
subsidies to help the poor cover out-of-pocket costs under President Barack
Obama's health law and to fix a glitch in the recent tax bill that subsidizes
grain sales to cooperatives at the expense of for-profit grain companies.
Trump has privately threatened to veto the whole package if a $900 million
payment is made on the Hudson River Gateway Project, a priority of top Senate
Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. Trump's opposition is alarming northeastern
Republicans such as Gateway supporter Peter King, R-N.Y., who lobbied Trump on
the project at a St. Patrick's luncheon in the Capitol on Thursday.
The Gateway Project would add an $11 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson
River to complement deteriorating, century-old tunnels that are at risk of
closing in a few years. It enjoys bipartisan support among key Appropriations
panel negotiators on the omnibus measure who want to get the expensive project
on track while their coffers are flush with money.
Most House Republicans voted to kill the funding in a tally last year,
however, preferring to see the money spread to a greater number of districts.
"Obviously, if we're doing a huge earmark ... it's troubling," said Rep.
Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of House conservatives. "Why would we do that?
Schumer's pet project and we pass that under a Republican-controlled Senate,
House and White House?"
Schumer has kept a low profile, avoiding stoking a battle with the
There's also a continuing battle over Trump's long-promised U.S.-Mexico
border wall. While Trump traveled to California on Tuesday to inspect
prototypes for the wall, what's pending now is $1.6 billion for earlier designs
involving sections in Texas that double as levees and 14 miles (23 kilometers)
of replacement fencing in San Diego.
It appears Democrats may be willing to accept wall funding, but they are
battling hard against Trump's demands for big increases for immigration agents
and detention beds they fear would enable wide-scale roundups of immigrants
illegally living in the U.S.
Meanwhile, a White House trial balloon to trade additional years of wall
funding for a temporary reprieve for immigrants brought to the country
illegally as children --- commonly called "Dreamers" --- landed with a thud
One battle involving Planned Parenthood appears to have been resolved as
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., dropped her insistence on a provision designed to
make sure that the organization, intensely disliked by anti-abortion
Republicans, receives a lion's share of federal family planning grants.
But another abortion-related provision --- backed by House Speaker Paul
Ryan, R-Wis. --- that would strengthen "conscience protection" for health care
providers that refuse to provide abortions remained unresolved heading into the
final round of talks.
Chances for an effort to attach legislation to permit states to require
out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes appear to be fading. And
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., faces strong opposition from
Democrats on a change to campaign finance laws to give party committees like
the National Republican Senate Committee the freedom to work more closely with
their candidates and ease limits to permit them to funnel more money to the
most competitive races.
One item that appears likely to catch a ride on the must-pass measure is a
package of telecommunications bills, including a measure to free up airwaves
for wireless users in anticipation of new 5G technology.