Senate leaders announce two-year budget deal to fund government, disaster aid

2018-02-07 | Los Angeles Times

Feb. 07--WASHINGTON -- A sweeping two-year budget deal announced by Senate leaders Wednesday promises to end the shutdown threats that have plagued Congress, but fails to address the nagging issue of immigration and will add to a deficit already ballooning due to the GOP tax cut plan.

Approval of the $300 billion bipartisan accord was not guaranteed, with votes expected on Thursday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she would reject the deal unless Speaker Paul D. Ryan agrees to consider legislation to protect immigrant Dreamers from deportation, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has done in the Senate.

But if passed, the deal, which would also lift the nation's debt limit for a year, pushes ugly partisan fights over government spending well past the November midterm elections and theoretically allows Congress to focus on more substantive issues, like immigration and infrastructure. It would be the first multiyear, bipartisan budget deal reached since 2015.

Negotiators are hoping to include the accord in what would by the fifth -- and possibly final -- short-term continuing resolution of this fiscal year. That extension would fund the government past Thursday's deadline until March 23, after which legislation with funding at the new levels, a so-called omnibus bill, would need to be approved.

The agreement circumvents the strict budget caps imposed under a 2011 budget deal, and adds $57 billion in new spending equally to both defense and non-defense accounts through fiscal 2019, according to those familiar with the talks. Republicans have been pushing for the military increases, and Democrats insist on parity for domestic programs.

The result would be a boost to defense of about $80 billion each year beyond what current law allows, rising from $551 billion in fiscal 2017 to $647 billion by fiscal 2019. Non-defense accounts would increase by more than $60 billion, to $597 billion by 2019.

The package also includes $90 billion in supplemental disaster aid spending for hurricanes and wildfires that ravaged coastal and Western states, and Puerto Rico -- more than had been suggested earlier in a House bill but not as much as California and others sought.

Unlike the past agreements to avoid the steep sequester cuts in 2013 and 2015, the deal announced Wednesday would only be partially offset with spending reductions or new revenue elsewhere, making it a nonstarter for many conservative Republicans -- especially after the GOP tax package added nearly $1.5 trillion over the decade to deficits.

"No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked hard to find common ground," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), adding that defense funds that will "ensure that for the first time in years our armed services have more of the resources they need to keep America safe."

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted many Democratic priorities, including a two-year extension of funding for Community Health Centers, a 10-year extension of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program and money to fight the opioid drug crisis.

"This budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship," Schumer said. "We have reached a budget deal that neither side loves but both sides can be proud of. That's compromise. That's governing."

Pelosi's opposition, though, thrusts the immigration debate back into the budget standoff, much the way President Trump did Tuesday when he said he'd "love to see a shutdown" if his immigration priorities, such as a border wall and limits on legal immigration, were not part of the budget package.

"The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities," Pelosi said Wednesday. But after surveying the Democratic caucus, she said the absence of immigration legislation was a deal breaker for some members.

Pelosi wants Ryan to commit -- as McConnell did last month as part of the deal to end the three-day government shutdown -- to consider bipartisan measures to protect the immigrant Dreamers as Trump ends their program. She seized the House floor in a rare filibuster-like speech that dragged on for hours Wednesday to share stories of Dreamers.

The Senate is expected to launch an immigration debate in a matter of days, as soon as the shutdown threat is averted.

"Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support," she said.

Ryan, however, has made no such commitment on Dreamers, stoking concerns that any immigration bill would simply languish in the House.

The immigration debate drove the shutdown last month, as Democrats pushed McConnell to agree to prioritize the issue, but it had not been part of more recent budget negotiations, despite Trump's nudging.

Pelosi's support for the budget deal will be vital because Ryan will almost certainly not be able to pass spending increases over objections from his conservative flank, including the Freedom Caucus, without relying on Democratic votes.

The accord includes $20 billion in new infrastructure spending on transportation, rural broadband and safe drinking water systems, as well as $5.8 billion for child care block grants, $4 billion to rebuild Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics and $2 billion for research at the National Institutes of Health, according to those familiar with the details.

It also creates a new Joint Select Committee that is tasked with developing a legislative solution to shore up faltering employer pensions by December.

Dreamers, the immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, risk deportation as Trump ends a program that has allowed them to apply to live and work here. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was set to end March 5, but a court challenge is allowing it to continue for now.

Lawmakers in both parties say they want to protect the Dreamers as part of a broader immigration bill that would include border security and perhaps other measures, and they believe a bipartisan deal would easily pass both chambers.

However, Ryan is under pressure from conservatives in his majority to stand by his earlier promise not to consider immigration legislation unless it is supported by most of the House Republican majority.

More recently, Ryan has said he would consider legislation that Trump supports, but the president's own shifting views on immigration have made a legislative deal difficult.

"Speaker Ryan has already repeatedly stated we intend to do a DACA and immigration reform bill -- one that the president supports," said spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Bipartisan groups in Congress continue to meet to strike a deal as the Senate prepares to open debate.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

@LisaMascaro

UPDATES:

2:00 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the deal and reaction.

10:00 a.m.: This article was updated with news of the bipartisan deal in the Senate.

This article was originally published at 7:30 a.m.