US Congress near US$1.3 trillion deal to avert shutdown

The US flag flying in front of the Capitol Dome at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC.
The US flag flying in front of the Capitol Dome at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - With government funding set to run out this weekend, congressional leaders neared agreement on Wednesday (March 22) on a voluminous US$1.3 trillion (S$1.7 trillion) spending bill that would beef up domestic and military programs and fund the government through to September.

"We're feeling very good about this," Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, told reporters after a meeting of top congressional leaders at the Capitol, which buzzed with activity even as the falling snow shuttered much of Washington.

The House and Senate have until midnight on Friday to pass the spending bill to avoid what would be the third government shutdown of the year. As part of the spending talks, congressional leaders have been trying to resolve disputes over issues like immigration, a southern border wall, health care and a planned rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey that has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump.

As talks progressed on Capitol Hill, the president himself emerged as a potential obstacle, waffling on Wednesday about whether he could support the final package in part because it lacked sufficient funding for his wall. To salvage the agreement, House Speaker Paul Ryan went to the White House residence to meet Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs chief, with Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, joining by telephone.

A White House official said the group smoothed over differences over a number of items, including the wall and other border issues, as well as transportation and military funding.

Afterwards, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, issued an upbeat statement making it clear that Trump had overcome his reservations, saying that he and the congressional leaders had "discussed their support for the bill".

Some key details emerged as negotiators tried to resolve the last issues standing in their way. To improve border security, the coming deal will include US$1.6 billion for more than 140km of physical barriers along the border with Mexico as well as related technology, according to congressional aides.

 

But there will be strings attached to what can be built, and the funding is far short of the total Trump would ultimately need to build his promised "big, beautiful wall". Much of the funding is for replacing existing barriers.