United States lawmakers seek budget breakthrough on eve of shutdown deadline

GOP to play hardball with Dems on funding bill

Greg Nash

Buoyed by the sudden likelihood of a budget pact, lawmakers are on track to avoid a repeat of last month's government shutdown - though President Donald Trump unexpectedly raised the possibility of closing things down again if he can't have his way on immigration.

But Trump is expected to unveil on Monday a fiscal 2019 budget plan that will be based on rosy assumptions, including economic growth of 3.2 percent next year, a White House official said.

It would extend most government funding at current levels until 23 March but would lift budget caps to provide $659 billion for the Pentagon through the end of the fiscal year on 30 September.

Tuesday night's 245-182 House vote, mostly along party lines, set the machinery in motion.

If passed early Friday, the bill would then head to the House, where the deal's fate is far from certain.

House Democrats plan to begin an annual retreat in Cambridge, Maryland, on Wednesday afternoon. Under the deal McConnell struck with Democratic leader Charles Schumer of NY, defense spending would be set at $700 billion for this fiscal year - $40 billion more than House Republicans were seeking - and $716 billion next year.

Democrats had been demanding "parity" as part of the deal, meaning that domestic spending gets the same increase the defense spending gets as part of any deal.

Both McConnell and Schumer reported progress Tuesday morning.

"We came together with an agreement that is very good for the American people", Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of NY said.

Prospects for dealing with immigration, however, were as fuzzy as ever.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier Wednesday said she would not support the legislation because it does not provide protections for the more than 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

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"The compromise we've reached will ensure that, for the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe".

Initial White House reaction to the deal was optimistic but noncommittal.

The plan also includes a few changes to the healthcare system.

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.

"I'm sorry for that characterization. And I hope that we will end up passing something", McConnell said.

The budget talks appeared to be going more smoothly. It boosts both defense and non-defense accounts and unleashes new funding for the opioid crisis, infrastructure investments in roads, bridges and broadband and multi-year funds for community health centers and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Such debt limit votes are usually enormous headaches for GOP leaders, but the increase means another vote won't occur before March 2019.

House conservatives might still balk at raising the debt ceiling, meaning Democratic votes might be needed for the amended legislation to pass.

The bill also included a one-time emergency influx of about $90 billion to help with ongoing recovery efforts for the hurricanes and wildfires that have hit the U.S.in recent months.

Trump says, "Without more Republicans in Congress, we were forced to increase spending on things we do not like or want" to help the USA military. It's married to a six-week government-wide spending bill that's required to reverse the shutdown. Their unity splintered during last month's three-day closure.

"The budget deal doesn't have everything Democrats want, it doesn't have everything the Republicans want, but it has a great deal of what the American people want", top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer told his colleagues.

The government was shut down in January after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on contentious budget and immigration issues. "And in the Senate, on those rare occasions when we have those kind of open debates, whoever gets to 60 wins".

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