WASHINGTON (AP) – Lawmakers pressed to enact a massive budget deal Thursday along with a temporary funding measure to prevent a government shutdown at midnight. GOP leaders moved to shore up support among conservatives for a plan to shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with an extra $300 billion over the next two years.
“It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Thursday morning. “I feel very good about Republicans. Our members who are focused on the military are very happy where we landed with that.”
The measure was a triumph for Republican allies of the Pentagon and for Democrats seeking more spending on infrastructure and fighting opioid abuse.
But it represented a bitter defeat for many liberal Democrats who sought to use the party’s leverage on the budget to resolve the plight of immigrant “Dreamers” who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The deal does not address immigration. And some tea party Republicans shredded the measure as a budget-buster.
Beyond the $300 billion figure, the agreement adds $89 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a politically charged increase in the government’s borrowing cap, and a grab bag of health and tax provisions. Cotton growers and dairy farmers would get relief courtesy of the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee, while popular funding for community health centers would be extended for two years, among myriad health provisions.
“I love bipartisanship, as you know,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “But the problem is the only time we discover bipartisanship is when we spend more money.”
Senate leaders pressed to approve the measure Thursday and send it to the House for a confirming vote before the government begins to shut down at midnight. But hurdles remain to avert the second shutdown in a month.
While Senate Democrats celebrated the rare moment of bipartisanship – Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a “genuine breakthrough” – progressives and activists blasted them for leaving immigrants in limbo. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, herself a key architect of the budget plan, announced her opposition Wednesday morning and mounted a remarkable daylong speech on the House floor, trying to force GOP leaders in the House to promise a later vote on legislation to protect the younger immigrants.
“Let Congress work its will,” Pelosi said, before holding the floor for more than eight hours without a break. “What are you afraid of?”
The White House backed the deal – despite President Donald Trump’s outburst a day earlier that he’d welcome a government shutdown if Democrats didn’t accept his immigration-limiting proposals.
Trump himself tweeted that the agreement “is so important for our great Military,” and he urged both Republicans and Democrats to support it.
But the plan faced criticism from deficit hawks in his own party.
Combined with the party’s December tax cut bill, the burst in military and other spending would put the GOP-controlled government on track for the first $1 trillion-plus deficits since President Barack Obama’s first term. That’s when Congress passed massive stimulus legislation to try to stabilize a down-spiraling economy.
“It’s too much,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a fiscal hawk.
The deal contains far more money demanded by Democrats than had seemed possible only weeks ago, including $90 billion in disaster aid for Florida and Texas. Some other veteran Democrats – some of whom said holding the budget deal hostage to action on Dreamer immigrants had already proven to be a failed strategy – appeared more likely to support the agreement than junior progressives elected in recent years.
The budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the troubled health care system for veterans.
The core of the agreement would shatter tight “caps” on defense and domestic programs funded by Congress each year. They are a hangover from a failed 2011 budget agreement and have led to military readiness problems and caused hardship at domestic agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.
The agreement would give the Pentagon an $80 billion increase for the current budget year for core defense programs, a 14 percent increase over current limits and $26 billion more than Trump’s budget request. Nondefense programs would receive about $60 billion over current levels. Those figures would be slightly increased for the 2019 budget year beginning Oct. 1.
The $89 billion in disaster aid would bring the total appropriated in the wake of last year’s hurricane season to almost $140 billion.
The agreement would increase the government’s borrowing cap to prevent a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. The debt limit would be suspended through March of 2019, Sanders said, putting the next vote on it safely past this year’s midterm elections.
McConnell officially unveiled the 652-page measure late Wednesday. It contained previously unmentioned extensions of tax provisions, an array of fee renewals to partly defray the measure’s cost, and almost 400 pages worth of health provisions.
___Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking, Luis Alonso Lugo and Jill Colvin in Washington and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.