Border Wall Holds Up Spending Bill 03/20 06:45
Battles over priorities in a huge government-wide spending bill are
essentially settled, leaving a scaled-back plan for President Donald Trump's
border wall and a huge rail project that pits Trump against Capitol Hill's most
powerful Democrat as the top issues to be solved.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Battles over priorities in a huge government-wide
spending bill are essentially settled, leaving a scaled-back plan for President
Donald Trump's border wall and a huge rail project that pits Trump against
Capitol Hill's most powerful Democrat as the top issues to be solved.
An agreement could be announced as early as Tuesday.
Efforts to tackle politically-charged immigration issues and rapidly rising
health insurance premiums appeared to be faltering.
Capitol Hill Democrats rejected a White House bid to extend protections for
so-called Dreamer immigrants in exchange for $25 billion in funding for a wall
on the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats appeared likely to yield on $1.6 billion
in wall funding, Trump's official request for the 2018 budget year, but they
were digging in against Trump's plans to hire hundreds of new immigration
A dispute over abortion seemed likely to scuttle a Senate GOP plan to
provide billions in federal subsidies to insurers to help curb health insurance
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was working on Trump's behalf against funding
for a Hudson River tunnel and rail project that's important to Senate Minority
Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republicans from New York and New Jersey.
Monday's developments were described by several lawmakers --- as well as
congressional aides in both parties who spoke on condition of anonymity because
the talks remain secretive.
House and Senate action is needed by midnight Friday to avert another
The bill would implement last month's budget agreement, providing 10 percent
increases for the Pentagon and domestic agencies. Coupled with last year's tax
cuts, it heralds the return of trillion-dollar budget deficits as soon as the
budget year starting in October.
Many battles over policy riders were sorted out in marathon negotiations
over the weekend. As is typical, many of the policy issues were melting away.
"We've had at least 100 that we've taken out," said Vermont Sen. Patrick
Leahy, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
For instance, an effort to add a plan to revive federal subsidies to
stabilize the individual health insurance market and help the poor cover
out-of-pocket costs under President Barack Obama's health law appeared to be
failing. A complicated dispute involving abortion was at fault.
Trump told Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, that
he supports addressing the health insurance issue now as part of the catchall
Alexander and Collins are seeking to revive payments to insurers, which
Trump halted last fall, that reimburse the carriers for reducing out-of-pocket
costs for many low-earning customers. Those reductions are required by the
Obama health law, and insurers have made up for the lost federal payments by
The Republicans said their subsidy plan would reduce premiums by up to 40
percent over time. They would also create a $30 billion, three-year reinsurance
program that states could use to help insurers afford to cover their most
seriously ill, expensive consumers.
Democrats, however, oppose GOP provisions that would forbid the federal
payments from being used to help pay for insurance policies that provide
And Republicans appeared likely to fail in a bid to fix a glitch in the
recent tax bill that subsidizes grain sales to cooperatives at the expense of
for-profit grain companies, several aides said.
"We need to fix that problem," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy,
Elsewhere, efforts to use the measure as a vehicle to extend protections for
young immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA,
program appeared likely to fail, lawmakers and aides said. Trump killed the
Obama-era program in September, but a court decision has essentially left it in
place, for now. The White House had revived the idea in recent days ---
offering on Sunday a 30-month extension of DACA protections in exchange for $25
billion for Trump's border wall --- but Democrats demanded protections for a
broader pool of immigrants than had signed up for DACA, a request denied by GOP
"Nobody's really moved," said No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas.
Trump tweeted Monday night: "The Democrats do not want to help DACA. Would
be so easy to make a deal!"
The president, meanwhile, has privately threatened to veto the whole package
if a $900 million payment is made on the Hudson River Gateway Project, a
priority for Schumer. Trump's opposition is alarming Northeastern Republicans
such as Rep. Peter King of New York, who lobbied Trump on the project at a St.
Patrick's luncheon in the Capitol Thursday.
The Gateway Project would add an $11 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson
River to complement deteriorating, century-old tunnels that are at risk of
closing in a few years. It enjoys bipartisan support among key Appropriations
panel negotiators on the omnibus measure who want to get the expensive project
on track while their coffers are flush with money.