$1 trillion spending deal shows Democrats’ clout

Andrew Taylor
Associated Press

Washington — Erasing the threat of a disruptive government shutdown, the White House and Congress endorsed a $1.1 trillion spending bill Monday to carry the nation through September, an agreement underscoring that Democrats retain considerable clout in Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency.

Negotiators released the 1,665-page bill after Republicans dropped numerous demands on the environment such as cutting funding for the Great Lakes cleanup program, Obama-era financial regulations and abortion in marathon sessions over the weekend. The bill is slated for a House vote on Wednesday, with a Senate vote ahead of a Friday midnight deadline.

“We thought we had the upper hand because a government shutdown would be on their shoulders, and we made that clear,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in an interview. “We knew that if we didn’t push things too far we could get a good deal that could make us happy and that’s what happened.”

Trump and the White House had made concessions last week when the president relented on his demand that the measure include a $1.4 billion down payment for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump repeatedly insisted during the election campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, a claim Mexican officials have vigorously rejected.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats ignored Trump’s proposal to cut billions of dollars from domestic programs, agreeing instead to provide funds for Planned Parenthood and the National Institutes of Health.

Democrats boasted of money for foreign assistance and cash-strapped Puerto Rico while winning funding for favored programs like transit projects and grants for first responders. They also defied Trump on a bid to punish “sanctuary cities” and on immigration enforcement.

The White House and some top GOP allies declared victory anyway, citing billions of dollars more for the military. Trump won a $15 billion down payment on his request to strengthen the military, though that also fell short of what he requested.

Vice President Mike Pence said the administration “couldn’t be more pleased” and called the agreement a “budget deal that’s a bipartisan win for the American people.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., praised the bill as well, saying it “acts on President Trump’s commitment to rebuild our military for the 21st century and bolster our nation’s border security to protect our homeland.”

The bill drew praise from some in Michigan’s congressional delegation.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing highlighted the inclusion of funding for the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative “is absolutely critical to supporting Michigan jobs and protecting our Great Lakes,” Stabenow said in a statement.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, echoed that sentiment and praised the funding for medical research.

“This NIH funding boost shows a deep commitment to our nation’s best and brightest researchers and doctors. It will pay huge dividends down the line for patients and families,” Upton said in a statement.

But Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from the Grand Rapids area, slammed the budget compromise on Twitter.

“Another deal to grow government. Instead of compromising to cut spending, each side agrees to let the other side spend more,” Amash wrote.

Longstanding conservative resistance to robust government spending typically requires the party to seek Democratic votes to pass spending bills despite the Republican majorities both houses of Congress. That made the party out of power a major player in the negotiations. The talks were also spurred by a strong Republican desire to complete unfinished business well into the fiscal year and move on to health care repeal and tax overhaul.

Ryan’s office peppered reporters’ inboxes with news releases cheerleading for the bill and GOP-won provisions such as extending a private school vouchers program for students in Washington, D.C.’s troubled school system through 2019.

Democrats had sought additional spending for nondefense accounts to match Pentagon increases above spending caps set by a 2015 budget pact negotiated with former President Barack Obama. They were forced to settle for far less with domestic increases in the 1 percent range.

The measure funds the remainder of the 2017 budget year, through Sept. 30. Capitol Hill Republicans joined Democrats in supporting increases for popular domestic programs such as medical research at the National Institutes of Health, with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., for instance, using his powerful post on the Appropriations panel to take the lead on a 40 percent boost in research on Alzheimer’s disease.

Democrats stressed their efforts to protect the Environmental Protection Agency, infrastructure grants and foreign aid. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., led the fight for a $1.3 billion provision to preserve health benefits for more than 22,000 retired coal miners and their families, while top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi provided the muscle behind a hard-won effort to give the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico $295 million to ease its Medicaid burden.

Some Republican conservatives remain wary.

“I think you’re going to see conservatives have some real concerns with this legislation,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said on CNN’s “New Day,” citing domestic spending obtained by Democrats and other issues. “Our job is to do what we told the voters we were going to do.”

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had said the administration wanted priorities such as the Mexico border wall, cuts to domestic programs and new flexibility to punish “sanctuary cities” as part of the measure. Each was rejected, however, with Trump signaling last month that the wall issue could be addressed in the next round of spending bills.

Trump, however, obtained $1.5 billion for border security measures such as 5,000 additional detention beds, an upgrade in border infrastructure and technologies such as surveillance.

While the measure would peacefully end a battle over the current budget year, the upcoming 2018 budget cycle promises to be even more difficult. Mulvaney’s plans to slash domestic agency budgets could grind this summer’s round of spending bills to a halt.

GOP leaders decided against trying to use the must-do spending bill to “defund” Planned Parenthood and dropped a House provision to “zero out” Title X family planning funds.

Winners and losers in spending bill

Winners

■Military. The bill includes $593 billion for the military, including $15 billion of Trump’s $30 billion emergency request from earlier this year. The Pentagon would receive a $26 billion increase over last year, a 4 percent increase. Military personnel would get a 2.1 percent pay hike.

■Planned Parenthood. The women’s health organization will continue to receive federal funding despite repeated Republican efforts to deny the group money over the abortion services it provides.

■Puerto Rico. The budget includes $295.9 million to alleviate an emergency budget shortfall in the cash-strapped commonwealth.

■Retired miners. The deal includes $1.3 billion to extend health insurance benefits for more than 22,000 retired mine workers and their widows.

■National Institutes of Health. The deal rejects Trump’s proposal to slash spending at the National Institutes of Health, instead giving NIH a $2 billion boost for cancer research and other programs supported by lawmakers from both parties.

■College students. The bill restores eligibility for year-round Pell Grants for college students. The measure would provide 1 million students with an average award of $1,650 a year to take classes year-round.

■Opioid funding. The bill provides a $150 million increase for programs to address prevention and treatment of opioid and heroin abuse. The money is in addition to $500 million authorized last year to address the nation’s ongoing opioid addiction crisis.

■Great Lakes. The bill rejects Trump’s call to cut $50 million in Great Lakes funding to support fishing, boating, hunting and stopping invasive species.

■Medical marijuana. The bill extends a policy that prohibits the Justice Department from using federal money to interfere with states’ medical marijuana laws. The prohibition has been in place since 2014.

■Local law enforcement. The bill includes $68 million to reimburse law enforcement agencies in New York City and Florida that have borne substantial costs to protect Trump and his family. Trump frequently travels to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, while first lady Melania Trump and the Trumps’ son, Barron, require around the clock protection as they live at their home in Manhattan until the end of school year.

Losers

■Border wall. Trump said at nearly every campaign stop last year that Mexico would pay for the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border wall, a claim Mexican leaders have repeatedly rejected. The administration sought some $1.4 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars for the wall and related costs in the spending bill, but Trump later relented and said the issue could wait until after September. Trump, however, obtained $1.5 billion for border security measures such as 5,000 additional detention beds, an upgrade in border infrastructure and technologies such as surveillance.

■Policy riders. GOP leaders backed away from language to take away grants from “sanctuary cities” that do not share information about people’s immigration status with federal authorities. Trump’s request for additional immigration agents was denied and the IRS budget would be frozen at $11.6 billion instead of absorbing cuts sought by Republicans.

■Yucca Mountain. The bill includes no money to revive the dormant Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Trump has proposed $120 million to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain in the budget year that begins in October. Nevada lawmakers strongly oppose the plan.

■Trump. The president made concessions on the border wall and the White House backed off on a threat to withhold payments that help lower-income Americans pay their medical bills. Congressional negotiators rebuffed proposed cuts to domestic and foreign programs pushed by the administration earlier this year.