Se­nate ad­vances $1.4T spend­ing deal in drive to ad­journ

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - LOCAL NEWS - By An­drew Tay­lor

WASH­ING­TON >> The Se­nate voted to ad­vance a $1.4 tril­lion gov­ern­ment spend­ing pack­age in a last bi­par­ti­san burst of leg­is­lat­ing be­fore bolt­ing for the hol­i­days from a Capi­tol riven by im­peach­ment.

The first bill in a twobill pack­age, cov­er­ing do­mes­tic pro­grams, passed eas­ily Thurs­day by a 7123 vote. A vote on a Pen­tagon and home­land se­cu­rity mea­sure was ex­pected later in the day.

The leg­is­la­tion would give Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump a vic­tory on his U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der fence and give Democrats long­sought do­mes­tic spend­ing in­creases and a re­peal of Obama-era taxes on high-cost health in­surance plans. It blends spend­ing in­creases for both sides — re­elec­tion fod­der for law­mak­ers — with tax and ben­e­fit add-ons that will mean a roughly $400 bil­lion boost to the deficit over 10 years.

The com­pro­mise bill would fore­stall a gov­ern­ment shut­down this week­end. The White House has said Trump would sign it be­fore Fri­day’s mid­night dead­line.

The split-their-dif­fer­ences leg­is­la­tion was car­ry­ing a large num­ber of un­re­lated pro­vi­sions into law, draw­ing protests from fis­cal con­ser­va­tives. It would put in place an ear­lier spend­ing deal that re­versed un­pop­u­lar and un­work­able au­to­matic spend­ing cuts to de­fense and do­mes­tic pro­grams — at a $2.2 tril­lion cost over the com­ing decade.

“These spend­ing bills are a fis­cal dump­ster fire,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. “This is em­bar­rass­ing.”

Key pro­vi­sions in­clude an ex­pen­sive re­peal of Obama-era taxes on high­cost health plans, help for re­tired coal miner, and an in­crease from 18 to 21 in the na­tion­wide le­gal age to buy tobacco prod­ucts. The tobacco mea­sure was pushed by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky.

The al­most 2,400-page pack­age re­flects the re­al­ity of di­vided gov­ern­ment and the en­dur­ing strength of the Capi­tol’s ap­pro­pri­a­tions process, which al­lows law­mak­ers to go to bat for their states and con­gres­sional dis­tricts.

McCon­nell emerged as a vic­tor, win­ning the po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar $6 bil­lion pen­sion res­cue for about 100,000 re­tired coal min­ers, along with more parochial items such as help for his state’s le­gal hemp in­dus­try and $410 mil­lion to build a new vet­er­ans hospi­tal in Louisville.

GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee chair­man, se­cured many items for his state, in­clud­ing a $378 mil­lion har­bor dredg­ing pro­gram. It’s ex­pected to de­liver the lions share to a Shelby-backed ini­tia­tive to deepen Mo­bile Har­bor to ac­com­mo­date larger cargo ships.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was also a driv­ing force, win­ning per­ma­nent re­peal of a tax on high-cost “Cadil­lac” health in­surance ben­e­fits that is un­pop­u­lar with Demo­cratic la­bor al­lies.

Af­ter months of ne­go­ti­a­tion, lead­ing law­mak­ers cut a deal on Mon­day that gives Trump a steady stream of money for the bor­der wall.

“I would have pre­ferred no fund­ing for the wall,” said Ver­mont Sen. Pa­trick Leahy, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “But the Re­pub­li­cans were clear . ... They stood with the pres­i­dent on the wall, as they seem to do time af­ter time.”

The bill also of­fered busi­ness-friendly pro­vi­sions on ex­port fi­nanc­ing, flood in­surance and im­mi­grant work­ers. A tax on med­i­cal de­vices and health in­surance plans would be re­pealed per­ma­nently.

The core of the spend­ing bill is formed by the 12 an­nual agency ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills passed by Congress each year. It fills in the de­tails of a bi­par­ti­san frame­work from July that de­liv­ered about $100 bil­lion in agency spend­ing in­creases over the com­ing two years in­stead of au­to­matic spend­ing cuts.

The bill ex­ceeds Trump’s bud­get re­quests in vir­tu­ally every do­mes­tic cat­e­gory, ex­cept for Trump’s re­quest for $8 bil­lion-plus for the U.S.-Mex­ico wall. It was cut back to $1.4 bil­lion, equal to last year’s ap­pro­pri­a­tion.

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