U.S. lawmakers sought to reach
agreement on Tuesday on a massive government spending bill that Congress hopes
to pass by Friday, with immigration issues such as President Donald Trump’s
border wall a stumbling block in the negotiations.
U.S. House of Representatives
Speaker Paul Ryan said he expected lawmakers to finish writing the $1.3
trillion bill later on Tuesday but that they were still finalizing some
Lawmakers and congressional aides
were skeptical that Senate and House of Representatives leaders would succeed
in including protections for young undocumented immigrants, who are known as
‘Dreamers,’ in the spending bill.
Congress must pass the spending
bill before midnight on Friday to prevent federal agencies from shutting down
when their funding runs out. But thorny issues linger, including whether to
include more money for the border wall, and a rail tunnel connecting New York
and New Jersey.
Republicans want $1.6 billion to
begin construction on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump campaigned
on in 2016. Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers have questioned the wisdom
of the edifice and instead want to use a mix of high-tech devices and fencing
to discourage illegal entries into the United States.
But in recent days, congressional
leaders and the White House have engaged in negotiations, which appear to have
failed, that could have given Trump the full $25 billion to build the wall. In
return, Democrats could have won permanent protections for the Dreamers, who
were brought illegally into the United States by their parents.
According to a source familiar
with the negotiations, the talks broke down on Sunday after the White House
insisted on the $25 billion but would only give the “Dreamer” youths 2-1/2
years of protections from deportation.
Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with Democratic senators, while several
Republicans planned to attend a meeting at the White House, to discuss issues
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin
left the meeting with Nielsen telling reporters DHS gave assurances that the immigrant
youths would not be targeted for deportation while their situation is in flux.
But he said DHS officials said there could be gaps in their work permits that
were provided under an Obama-era protection program that Trump ended.
“You will have doctors, teachers,
maybe members of the military in a very difficult position,” Durbin said.
Lawmakers said congressional
leaders were also arguing over whether to include federal payments for
constructing a New York-New Jersey railroad tunnel, a project known as the
Gateway Program. Trump has threatened to veto the bill if it does.
Ryan said lawmakers were also
discussing including a proposal to improve federal background checks for gun
purchases. A Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, has
given impetus to the bill, as well as another that would spend money to help
schools defend themselves against gun violence but without putting new limits
on weapons sales.
House Republicans emerging from a
closed meeting on Tuesday morning, meanwhile, said that there was little
information provided by leadership about the state of play.
“Most of the discussion ... is
trying to convince us that defense is so critical that we have to swallow
everything else to give our soldiers and airmen and marines and sailors the pay
raise they need and the equipment and training they need,” said Republican
Representative Kevin Cramer.
“There’s no question it’s a very
high priority, but it’s becoming a very difficult pill,” Cramer said.
A major boost in defense spending
was authorized last month as part of a two-year budget deal and the fiscal 2018
spending bill intends to carry out that mandate, along with a requirement for
$131 billion in increased non-defense spending over two years.
Republican Representative Charles
Dent said that if negotiators finish the bill by Tuesday night, it would be
expected on the House floor on Thursday, leaving the Senate a day to also pass