- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Senate leaders announced a budget-busting bipartisan deal Wednesday to hike government spending by nearly $300 billion over the next two years, eliminating the budget caps that had kept deficits in check since 2012 but leaving the Pentagon pleading poverty.

The agreement could pave the way to avoid a government shutdown this week. Senators rallied behind the deal, saying it took care of a long list of priorities that had piled up over years. House lawmakers were less enthusiastic, and opposition from both the left and right could still sink the plan.

If it goes through, the deal would boost Pentagon spending this year by $80 billion, which military leaders said would avert aircraft groundings and troop shortages. Domestic spending would leap by $63 billion, with veterans hospitals, anti-opioid addiction efforts, infrastructure upgrades and disaster relief all expected to get substantial infusions of cash.

The deal also envisioned nearly $90 billion in emergency disaster money, a package of additional breaks that didn’t make last year’s tax cut bill and a debt ceiling increase to allow for the massive spending.

“This budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, announcing the deal with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Funding is already more than four months overdue, with the fiscal year having begun Oct. 1. Agencies have limped along on four stopgap bills, with all sides pointing fingers at each other.

Lawmakers had been stalemated over the top-line spending numbers, with Republicans demanding a surge in defense spending and Democrats insisting it be matched dollar-for-dollar by increases in domestic programs.

Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer agreed to major hikes in both, hoping the cash would help Republicans and Democrats swallow things they didn’t want.

But the numbers were eye-popping for many.

“I’m not only a ‘no’ — I’m a ‘hell no,’” said Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican. “I’m not going to support anything that’s going to result in America suffering a debilitating insolvency and bankruptcy, and this legislation takes us hell-bent in that direction.”

The conservative House Freedom Caucus, which reputedly has almost 40 Republican members, officially came out against the deal Wednesday evening.

“Official position: HFC opposes the caps deal. We support funding our troops, but growing the size of government by 13 percent is not what the voters sent us here to do,” the group posted on its Twitter feed.

Conservative groups said the deal amounted to a surrender on the spending restraints that House Speaker John A. Boehner and his tea party-infused forces managed to wrangle from President Obama. Those restraints produced two consecutive years of reductions in government spending for the first time since the 1950s.

By contrast, the latest deal sets the stage for $1.5 trillion in additional debt over the next decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“No one who supports this bill can consider himself or herself a deficit hawk or fiscally responsible,” said committee President Maya MacGuineas.

The deal also signals a retreat for the White House, which last year proposed more than $50 billion in discretionary spending cuts this year — only to see Congress toss them.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, sold the bill to his members as the only way to help the military recover from years of neglect.

“The winners today are the men and women who serve in our armed forces. This agreement delivers on our commitment to fully fund our national defense — no more short-term ploys and patches,” he said.

He also said that by giving more money to the Pentagon than to domestic needs, Congress was “breaking Democrats’ Obama-era insistence that funding for our military be tied to increases in non-defense spending” — potentially paving the way for even bigger defense increases.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, complained that the deal did not offer any solution to illegal immigrant Dreamers.

Democrats forced the government into a partial shutdown last month over lack of action they wanted on immigration, and many are poised to attempt a repeat, cheered on by immigrant rights activists.

“History is watching. Real people’s lives and futures are at stake. A Day of Shame is in the offing unless members of Congress who care about Dreamers vote no on a spending caps deal without Dreamer relief,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

Mrs. Pelosi occupied the House floor for more than seven hours, apparently setting a chamber record for a single speech, to highlight Dreamers’ stories and to demand that Mr. Ryan agree to a free-wheeling immigration debate this month if he wants Democrats to vote for the budget deal.

“Our basic request is honor the House of Representatives. Give us a chance to have a vote on the floor,” she said.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat and one of the most ardent pro-immigrant advocates in Congress, applauded Mrs. Pelosi for her speech but said he wasn’t sure if there would be enough Democratic holdouts to sink the plan in the end.

“Tomorrow I want her to use the same kind of tenacity and muscle and perseverance to stop the Democrats from folding,” he said.

“When the deportations begin, anybody that voted for that bargain tomorrow also voted to collude with Republicans to lead to the deportation of Dreamers,” he said.

The deal does check off a number of Democrats’ other priorities. Mr. Schumer said it would allocate $6 billion in anti-opioid grants and law enforcement money, $5.8 billion in child care block grants, $4 billion to rebuild veterans hospitals, an additional $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $20 billion to repair existing infrastructure.

The bill does not include a bailout for labor union pensions, which Democrats had desperately fought for, but it does create a select committee to report back by the end of the year on what Congress can do.

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