US lawmakers agree on $1.1 trillion spending bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats agreed Tuesday on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown and delay a politically-charged struggle over President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy until the new year.
The compromise will permit virtually the entire federal government to operate normally through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. Funds for that one agency will run out again in late winter. That will give newly empowered Republicans an opportunity to try to use the expiration as leverage to force Obama to roll back a decision that will suspend the threat of deportation for an estimated 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
The events coincided with the end of an eight-year era of Democratic control of the Senate. Republicans will have a majority in January after gaining nine seats in as they swept to power in the November elections, and newly elected Republican senators-elect participated in closed-door strategy sessions during the day.
In an unexpected move, lawmakers also agreed on legislation expected to be incorporated into the spending measure that will permit a reduction in benefits for current retirees at economically distressed multiemployer pension plans. Supporters said it was part of an effort to prevent a slow-motion collapse of a system that provides retirement income to millions, but critics objected vehemently.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the bill.
At 1,603 pages, the spending bill adheres to strict caps negotiated earlier between the White House and deficit- conscious Republicans, and is also salted with Republican policy proposals. As described by unhappy liberals, one would roll back new regulations that prohibit banks from using federal deposit insurance to cover investments on some complex financial instruments.
Elsewhere, there were trade-offs. Republicans won a $60 million cut at the Environmental Protection Agency, and said the agency’s workforce would be reduced to the lowest level since 1989. Democrats emerged with increases for enforcement activities at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
“The federal government’s going to run out of money in two days. ... We’ve been trying to work with Republican leaders to avoid a shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in midafternoon as final negotiations dragged on.
Speaker John Boehner said he hoped for a vote on the measure on Thursday, and officials expressed confidence they could overcome opposition from Republican lawmakers supported by the ultraconservative tea party movement and ans and avoid a government shutdown.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that said she was hopeful her rank and file could support the bill, but needed to review the final language.
Senate approval would then be required to send it to Obama — one of the final acts of a two-year Congress far better known for gridlock than for accomplishment.
After gaining control of the Senate and adding to their majority in the House in the November elections, Republicans pledged they would prove to Americans that they were ready to govern, not just obstruct the president. They’re trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s a 16-day partial shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn Obama’s signature health care law — which backfired and led to a big drop in Republican approval ratings.
Before time runs out on his majority, Reid said he wanted to assure confirmation of nine more of Obama’s judicial nominees and approve the appointment of Vivek Murthy as surgeon general.
Also on Congress’ must-do list is legislation to renew a series of expiring tax breaks, and a bill to authorize the Pentagon to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State forces in the Middle East.
Proponents of campaign finance reforms decried a provision slipped in at the last minute that would sharply increase limits on the amount that an individual can contribute to various national political party accounts and committees each year from $32,400 to $324,000. That means individuals could give $648,000 per two-year campaign cycle.
Not all Republicans agreed with the strategy of postponing a fight over immigration. Some conservative lawmakers demanded a change in the spending measure to deny the use of federal funds to carry out the president’s new policy. The leadership ruled otherwise, gambling that even with conservative defections, enough bipartisan support existed for the funding bill to assure its passage.
Associated Press writers Connie Cass and Erica Werner contributed to this report.