US lawmakers in race to finalise spending Bill

Govt to shut down for third time this year if no action is taken by midnight tomorrow

WASHINGTON • US lawmakers aimed to thread the needle yesterday on an enormous federal spending Bill, rushing to meet a looming deadline before government funding expires, yet again, in two days.

If no action is taken by midnight tomorrow, the US government would shut down for the third time this year.

Republicans and Democrats have spent the past several weeks thrashing out a roughly US$1.2 trillion (S$1.58 trillion) deal on spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept 30.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that "some unresolved issues" remained, but that he was hoping it would be finalised and released later in the day.

That would give lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans, little time to study, debate and then pass the massive legislation before the deadline.

Still, congressional leaders remained hopeful that a shutdown could be avoided. "A few sticking points remain, but we are very close" to a deal, said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, President Donald Trump's chief rival in Congress. He would not address some of the specifics in the final haggling, saying he did not want to "jeopardise anything".

The measure follows the outlines of a 2018-2019 Budget deal reached last month that boosts both military and domestic spending by more than 10 per cent.

Mr Ryan was expecting "the biggest increase in defence spending in 15 years" - about US$80 billion above the current spending limits - a move that he said would reverse the damage caused by a decade of budget constraints on the armed forces. Democrats can meanwhile claim increased domestic spending on issues including infrastructure, education and battling the opioid crisis.

But several politically sensitive riders - elements that are attached to must-pass legislation because they would have little chance of success on their own - were still up in the air, including an effort by Democrats to fund Obamacare subsidies granted to insurance companies serving low-income patients.

The divisive issues include whether to provide more money for the wall that Mr Trump wants to build on the US-Mexico border, and a rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey.

In recent days, congressional leaders and the White House engaged in negotiations that could have given Mr Trump the full US$25 billion to build the wall. In return, Democrats could have won permanent protections for the Dreamers - immigrants who are in the US illegally after going there as children.

However, a source said talks broke down on Sunday after the White House insisted on the US$25 billion, but would give the Dreamers only 21/2 years of protection from deportation.

Lawmakers said congressional leaders were also arguing over whether to include federal payments for constructing a New York-New Jersey railroad tunnel.

Mr Trump has threatened to veto the Bill if it does.

Last-minute haggling was also taking place over the wording of a measure on funding for abortion services and another for tighter background checks on gun purchases.

Congress failed twice before to pass a 2018 federal spending Bill before the deadline, sending the government into shutdowns that lasted a few days in January, and a few hours last month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'US lawmakers in race to finalise spending Bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe