Congressional Leaders Say They Agree on Budget Deal

02/07/18 05:10 PM EST
By Kristina Peterson and Siobhan Hughes 

WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders said Wednesday they had reached an agreement on a two-year budget deal, charting a path out of the turmoil over spending and immigration that had shuttered the government last month and left its long-term funding in jeopardy.

The agreement raises federal spending by almost $300 billion over two years above limits imposed by a 2011 budget law. If approved by the GOP-controlled Congress, the deal would mark the triumph of defense hawks, who have pushed for higher military spending, over the dwindling number of lawmakers focused on reducing the federal budget deficit.

After months of legislative stalemate, both Democrats and Republicans hailed different components of the sprawling deal, which also angered factions of both parties.

"This bill is the product of extensive negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday, announcing the deal. "No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked hard to find common ground."

"After months of legislative logjams, this budget deal is a genuine breakthrough," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N..Y.) said on the Senate floor.

The deal between the top four congressional leaders and the White House came after many Democrats, smarting from the political fallout of last month's government shutdown, decided to separate an immigration debate from long-running efforts to boost spending for both the military and domestic programs.

The budget deal would raise military spending by $80 billion through the rest of fiscal year, which runs through September, and by $85 billion in fiscal year 2019, in addition to $140 billion in emergency war funds, according to aides from both parties.

Congressional leaders also agreed to raise nondefense spending by $63 billion in this fiscal year and $68 billion the following year, according to aides, addressing demands from Democrats, who had pushed for boosting domestic spending.

Taken together, the budget deal would not only undo one set of spending curbs, known as the sequester, but would also for the first time bring federal spending above the higher set of limits agreed to in 2011, as part of a compromise aimed at ending a bruising battle over the debt ceiling.

It would also ensure that the Children's Health Insurance Program is funded for 10 years, direct nearly $90 billion in aid for states and territories battered by last year's destructive storms and increase funding for community health centers for two years.

The budget deal would set the overall spending levels for the next two fiscal years, but lawmakers will need several weeks to translate that into detailed spending legislation to fund the government through September. Congress will still need to pass a short-term spending bill this week to avoid a government shutdown when its current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

White House officials applauded the deal, though they said they wanted to see the final legislation before endorsing it.

"We're certainly happy with the direction that it's moving, particularly that we're moving away from the crisis budgeting that we've been on in the past," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

But the spending package faces a bumpy road in the House, where conservative Republicans balked at the ratcheted-up federal spending and a provision that would suspend the government's borrowing limit until a date after the midterm election in the fall.

"This is a debt junkie's spending bill," said Rep. Mo Brooks (R., Ala.).

Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), the previous chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, predicted the "vast, vast majority" of the group of conservative Republicans would oppose the budget agreement.

"I just think it's a bad deal," Mr. Jordan said as he left a briefing led by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.). "This is not what we were elected to do."

The agreement also faces resistance from some House Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass it, over the de-coupling of the spending fight and immigration.

Democrats had previously tried to use their leverage on spending bills to secure legal protections for undocumented immigrants called Dreamers, who were brought to the country at a young age. President Donald Trump in September ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that shielded them from deportation, but gave Congress until March 5 to pass its replacement.

In a testament to the complicated politics of the pact, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), one of the leaders who helped craft the spending agreement, took to the House floor for hours Wednesday to oppose it. Other House Democrats are expected to back the budget deal, but Mrs. Pelosi's speech aimed to show her support to the liberal wing that has made immigration its top priority.

Seizing the floor for much of the day, Mrs. Pelosi said she would oppose the deal unless Mr. Ryan made a broad pledge to bring an immigration bill up for a vote.

"The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities," Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday morning, referring to items such as funding for community health centers, combating the opioid epidemic, medical research and infrastructure projects. But without a pledge for a coming immigration vote, "this package does not have my support," she said.

As part of an agreement to end a three-day partial government shutdown last month, Mr. McConnell pledged to bring an immigration bill to the Senate floor. But on the House side, Mr. Ryan has said he would bring an immigration bill to the floor only if it is backed by Mr. Trump.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan. reiterated that stance Wednesday.

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

The House on Tuesday night passed a spending bill that would keep the Defense Department funded through September and the rest of the government through March 23. The Senate is likely to strip out the military funding and include the two-year budget agreement, sending it back to the House.

--Natalie Andrews and Peter Nicholas contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 07, 2018 17:10 ET (22:10 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.