26 May 2019

Congress Seeks To Finalize $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill

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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 provisions.

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 around immigration.

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 the measure.

Click here for the original article from Reuters.
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