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Congress reaches deal on trillion-dollar bill that hikes defense and domestic spending

Congress reaches deal on trillion-dollar bill that hikes defense and domestic spending
A snowstorm hit Washington on Wednesday. (Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

House and Senate negotiators reached tentative agreement Wednesday on a $1.3-trillion bill that would boost both defense and domestic spending, but at the same time put off solutions to other contentious issues, such as the fate of young immigrants in the country illegally.

The announcement of the deal late Wednesday came two days before the federal government would have been forced to shut down. The House and Senate now face a narrow opening to approve the 2,232-page measure by Friday.

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The appropriations bill stemmed from a February deal in which leaders agreed to add tens of billions of dollars to both defense and nondefense spending over the next two years. The new spending levels, if approved by both chambers, will extend through September.

Republicans pushed the bill as a way of boosting defense spending to make up for cutbacks under budget deals formed during the Obama administration.

"This legislation fulfills our pledge to rebuild the United States military," House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday.

Democrats, meanwhile, heralded increases in domestic spending. Those allowances for education, housing, opioid addiction efforts and other federal programs were prompted by the need for Democratic votes to offset expected opposition by fiscal conservatives.

"Every bill takes compromise, and there was plenty here, but at the end of the day we Democrats feel very good because so many of our priorities for the middle class were included," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said. "From opioid funding to rural broadband, and from student loans to child care, this bill puts workers and families first."

The deal was initially expected to be announced no later than Monday night, but was delayed due to disagreements over immigration, healthcare, abortion rights and a long-stalled effort to strengthen the background check system for gun purchasers.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ryan left the Capitol to travel to the White House, where President Trump was said to be waffling over whether to back the deal. Afterward White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement of support:

"The president had a discussion with Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, where they talked about their shared priorities secured in the omnibus spending bill. The president and the leaders discussed their support for the bill, which includes more funds to rebuild the military, such as the largest pay raise for our troops in a decade, more than 100 miles of new construction for the border wall and other key domestic priorities, like combating the opioid crisis and rebuilding our nation's infrastructure."

Despite Sanders' words, the immigration and border component of the spending bill fell far short of what Trump had promised voters en route to the presidency. It included less than $2 billion in border security funding — much of it restricted, and in any case, below Trump's $25-billion request.

The deal did lean in the president's direction in a few key areas, omitting specific funding for the Gateway project, an underwater rail tunnel linking New York and New Jersey. The president had demanded that the funding be stripped in what Democrats saw as a slap at one of its strongest supporters, New York Sen. Schumer.

Among the included elements, according to legislators and others, were three that touched on the national outcry after recent mass shootings: the measure to strengthen the nation's background check system, another that provides money for schools to tighten security and train workers to spot potential assailants before they act, and a statement that gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention permission to research the impact of gun violence. Since 1996, a spending measure had been interpreted as banning gun research.

Left out, however, were several of the items that were unable to be thrashed out in the final days before the spending bill's release. Also not included was an initially bipartisan measure to help buttress the Obamacare health insurance markets.

Also left out was a solution to the fate of the young immigrants in the country illegally because of their parents' actions. Until September, they were protected under an Obama administration program, which Trump canceled. Several attempts to craft a deal merging support for the border wall and protection for the "Dreamers" failed. Many of them are now protected by a court stay which could be lifted at any time.

"For all of the talk from Republicans and Democrats since September about rescuing the Dreamers and preventing their deportation, the final omnibus budget gives Trump money for his wall and we get nothing for it," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.). "Immigrants and Latinos got run over by the omnibus [spending bill] and we have nothing in return."

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As Latino members discussed their options, the spending bill also came under fire from conservative Republicans over its content and the need to rush it through Congress to prevent a government shutdown.

"Congress is about to vote on a $1.6-trillion funding bill, privately written by congressional leaders ... giving members and the public around 24 hours to read its 2,000 pages," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. "This is the total opposite of what Americans voted for. When will we learn?"

The House and Senate are due to leave Washington at the end of the week for a two-week spring break.

Twitter: @cathleendecker

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UPDATES:

6:10 p.m.: This article was updated with more details about the bill.

5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

5:40 p.m.: This article was updated to add information on provisions related to gun violence.

This article was originally published at 5:30 p.m.

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