Congress approves $1.3-trillion spending
bill, sends to Trump
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[March 23, 2018]
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress
voted early on Friday to approve a $1.3-trillion government funding bill
with large increases in military and non-defense spending, sending it to
President Donald Trump, who was expected to sign it into law.
With Trump's signature, the bill will avert a threatened government
shutdown and keep federal agencies funded until Sept. 30, ending for now
Washington's constant budget squabbles and letting lawmakers focus on
getting reelected in November.
The Senate voted 65-32 for the bill, several hours after the House of
Representatives passed it 256-167 on Thursday.
The votes capped a long struggle by Congress, which was supposed to have
approved the government funding by last Oct. 1.
Since then, several stop-gap spending bills have kept the government
open, except for two brief shutdowns earlier this year when Congress
deadlocked and funding expired.
Despite Republican leaders urging passage of the bill, some Republicans
voted no. Their party controls both chambers of Congress and the White
House, but has struggled since taking power in January 2017 to approve
Republican Senator Rand Paul spent part of Thursday on social network
Twitter criticizing what he said was unnecessary spending in the
"Shame, shame. A pox on both Houses - and parties. Here’s the 2,232
page, $1.3 trillion, budget-busting Omnibus spending bill," Paul
declared in one message.
He decried a "monstrous bill" teeming with money for decades-old
programs. His last-minute objections played a key role in delaying the
Senate's vote until the dead of night.
On Thursday, Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the far-right
Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, said, "This omnibus
doesn’t just forget the promises we made to voters - it flatly rejects
He added, "This is not the limited government conservatism our voters
Not all of the opposition, however, was over fiscal policy.
Before he would let the voting proceed, Republican Senator James Risch
insisted on a promise that a wilderness area in his home state of Idaho
would not be named after the late former Governor Cecil Andrus, a
The legislation has provisions that appeal to conservatives, however,
with its $80-billion increase this year to the military budget and more
border security funding.
But significantly higher non-defense spending put conservatives on edge.
In the House, 90 of the chamber's 238 Republicans revolted against the
Coupled with recent tax cuts, the government funding bill is projected
to lead to budget deficits of more than $800 billion for this year.
Conservatives warned it could create problems for Republicans running
for re-election in November.
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Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), accompanied by Speaker of the House Paul
Ryan, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington,
U.S., March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
SCALED-BACK TRUMP PROPOSALS
Several Trump initiatives would suffer setbacks. At one point during
prolonged negotiations he pushed for $25 billion in funds to fully
build his border wall with Mexico.
The president's severe cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency,
State Department and other federal agencies would also be scaled
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters the
legislation "does a lot of what we wanted – not everything we wanted
– but a lot of what we wanted on immigration."
Trump said on Twitter the bill would allow him to start building the
wall, which he calls an essential part of efforts to reduce illegal
immigration. "Got $1.6 billion to start wall on southern border,
rest will be forthcoming," he wrote.
But Democrats, who have long opposed the wall, argued the added
funds would help build or restore a range of other barriers,
including existing fencing, but not a concrete edifice.
The $1.6 billion would also be used to hire more border patrol
agents. But there would not be a significant increase in immigration
agents, or in detention beds needed to step up immigrant
The Department of Homeland Security had sought a big boost in those
officers' ranks to boost deportations of illegal immigrants.
Besides the largest defense buildup in 15 years, the measure
includes new funds to improve infrastructure and counter Russian
In response to public anger and frustration over mass shootings, it
includes modest improvements to background checks for gun sales and
grants to help schools prevent gun violence.
Those provisions were far short of steps many Democrats and gun
control groups urged to prevent repeats of mass killings.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Clarence
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