- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2018

Congressional Republicans were rushing to put finishing touches on a $1.3 trillion bill Monday to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2018, retreating on most conservative demands in order to earn help from Democrats in passing the bill by a shutdown deadline Friday.

President Trump was likely to get $1.6 billion in border security funding, which could cover one year’s worth of construction on the first sections of his border wall. But illegal immigrant “Dreamers” weren’t likely to get any new protections, lawmakers said as they emerged from an evening briefing.

Key Obamacare money was also likely to be dropped from the bill, while decisions about federal funding for a tunnel into New York City and restrictions on taxpayer money being used to fund abortions were still being hashed out, lawmakers said.

GOP leaders were pushing for a vote Wednesday on legislation that was likely to stretch into the thousands of pages, giving members little time to review what they’ll be approving. The Senate would also have to approve the deal, as Congress races a Friday shutdown deadline.

“As early as Wednesday, the House plans to vote on a trillion-dollar spending bill — stuffed with all sorts of unrelated measures — and we don’t even have the text. That’s insane,” Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, said on Twitter.

Facing a potential revolt from conservatives, GOP leaders urged them to see the bill as a major win for the Pentagon, with an $80 billion surge in defense spending, to $700 billion this year. The leaders said shortfalls during the last administration had created a readiness crisis in the military, saying troops’ lives are being lost because of maintenance and training problems.

“[We’ve] got a pay raise for our troops in this bill. We have finally the increase [to] rebuild the depletion in our Air Force. We saw more planes falling out of the sky in this last week — it’s a major problem,” Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, told reporters after a closed-door House GOP meeting.

The bill also includes $63 billion in domestic spending increases, pushing that figure to about $600 billion this year. Combined, the defense and domestic increases swamp the spending caps set by Republicans and President Obama in the 2011 debt deal.

On immigration, heated negotiations saw Mr. Trump offer to grant Dreamers firmer protections in exchange for his full $25 billion border security proposal. Democrats rejected that. They had argued that if Mr. Trump got his full border funding, illegal immigrants needed a full pathway to citizenship.

The White House has repeatedly rejected that as a lopsided deal.

The resulting stalemate means the Obama-era DACA program remains in effect, though on shaky legal ground. Courts have ordered the administration to re-start the program by renewing current enrollees, but have said Homeland Security doesn’t need to accept new applicants.

Trump administration lawyers are arguing the whole program must be shut down.

About 683,000 Dreamers were still protected by the program as of January.

The bill was, however, likely to include a boost in guest-worker visas for employees who work at resorts, landscaping and other seasonal jobs. And it appeared poised to continue the “golden visa” program that allows wealthy investors to buy a pathway into the U.S. by committing their cash to projects here.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, had been pushing for reforms to the EB-5 investor visa, but said big-dollar interests outmaneuvered him.

“A few EB-5 businesses with a lot of money have used their political connections and influence to block them,” he said.

A disagreement over abortion language also appeared to sink an effort to include new money for “cost-sharing” reductions and reinsurance plans under Obamacare intended to defray insurance company costs associated with by covering low-income and high-risk consumers.

Conservatives, who have called the cost-sharing payments a “bailout,” had also said none of the funding should subsidize plans that cover abortion. Democrats rejected those restrictions, saying they could prevent people from being able to use their own money on plans that cover abortion.

The gaps between the sides were too big, members of the spending committee said.

“People think ‘Why should I fund the system I voted against, don’t support, with no reforms attached to it?’” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican.

Despite a renewed interest in gun violence research in the wake of the Parkland shooting, the package was also expected to leave in place long-standing language bars federal health agencies from using public money to advocate or promote gun control.

Republican appropriators have pointed to recent comments from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar saying the language doesn’t actually preclude the government from conducting research into the causes of gun violence as reason not to wade into the hot-button issue.

Democrats, though, say the language has had a “chilling effect” on gun research regardless of its original intent, and had pushed to have it removed.

Mr. Trump was still fighting Monday evening over congressional plans to commit $900 million in federal funding to a New York-New Jersey construction project that includes new train tunnels into Manhattan.

The president had reportedly threatened to veto the spending bill if it included the funding, and the White House has said New York and New Jersey should pick up more of the costs.

But he’s battling House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who both want to see the $900 million included.


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