Senate advances $1.4T spending deal in drive to adjourn
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.