US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump
Photo by PTI

Washington: The Democratic-controlled House voted Tuesday to pass a USD 1.4 trillion government-wide spending package, handing President Donald Trump a victory on his US-Mexico border fence while giving Democrats spending increases across a swath of domestic programmes.

The hard-fought legislation also funds a record Pentagon budget and is serving as a must-pass legislative locomotive to tow an unusually large haul of unrelated provisions into law, including an expensive repeal of Obama-era taxes on high-cost health plans, help for retired coal miners, and an increase from 18 to 21 in nationwide legal age to buy tobacco products.

The two-bill package, some 2,371 pages long after additional tax provisions were folded in on Tuesday morning, was unveiled Monday afternoon and adopted less than 24 hours later as lawmakers prepared to wrap up reams of unfinished work against a backdrop of Wednesday's vote on impeaching President Donald Trump.

The House first passed a measure funding domestic programmes on a 297-120 vote. But one-third of the Democrats defected on a 280-138 vote on the second bill, which funds the military and the Department of Homeland Security, mostly because it funds Trump's border wall project.

The spending legislation would forestall a government shutdown this weekend and give Trump steady funding for his US-Mexico border fence, a move that frustrated Hispanic Democrats and party liberals.

The year-end package is anchored by a USD 1.4 trillion spending measure that caps a difficult, months-long battle over spending priorities.

The mammoth measure made public Monday takes a split-the-differences approach that's a product of divided power in Washington, offering lawmakers of all stripes plenty to vote for - and against.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, was a driving force, along with administration pragmatists such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who negotiated the summertime budget deal that it implements.

The White House said Tuesday that Trump will sign the measure.

"The president is poised to sign it and to keep the government open," said top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The bill also offers business-friendly provisions on export financing, flood insurance and immigrant workers.

The roster of add-ons grew over the weekend to include permanent repeal of a tax on high-cost "Cadillac" health insurance benefits and a hard-won provision to finance health care and pension benefits for about 100,000 retired union coal miners threatened by the insolvency of their pension fund. A tax on medical devices and health insurance plans would also be repealed permanently.

Tuesday's tax breaks increases deficit tab for the package grew as well with the addition of USD 428 billion in tax cuts over 10 years to repeal the three so-called "Obamacare" taxes and extend expiring tax breaks.

The legislation is laced with provisions reflecting divided power in Washington. Republicans maintained the status quo on several abortion-related battles and on funding for Trump's border wall. Democrats controlling the House succeeded in winning a 3.1 per cent raise for federal civilian employees and the first installment of funding on gun violence research after more than two decades of gun lobby opposition.

The core of the spending bill is formed by the 12 annual agency appropriations bills passed by Congress each year. It fills in the details of a bipartisan framework from July that delivered about USD 100 billion in agency spending increases over the coming two years instead of automatic spending cuts that would have sharply slashed the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

For business, there's a seven-year extension of the charter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance transactions benefiting U S exporters, as well as a renewal of the government's terrorism risk insurance program.

The financially-troubled government flood insurance programme would be extended through September, as would several visa programs for both skilled and seasonal workers.

Labour won repeal of the so-called Cadillac tax, a 40 per cent tax on high-cost employer health plans, which was originally intended to curb rapidly growing health care spending. Democrats controlling the House won increased funding for early childhood education and a variety of other domestic programmes. They also won higher Medicaid funding for the cash-poor government of Puerto Rico, which is struggling to recover from hurricane devastation and a resulting economic downturn.

While Republicans touted defense hikes and Democrats reeled off numerous increases for domestic programs, most of the provisions of the spending bill enjoy bipartisan support, including increases for medical research, combating the opioid epidemic, Head Start, and childcare grants to states.

Democrats also secured USD 425 million for states to upgrade their election systems, and they boosted the US Census budget USD 1.4 billion above Trump's request. They won smaller increases for the Environmental Protection Agency, renewable energy programs and affordable housing.

The outcome in the latest chapter in the longstanding battle over Trump's border wall awards Trump with USD 1.4 billion for new barriers - equal to last year's appropriation - while preserving Trump's ability to use his budget powers to tap other accounts for several times that amount.

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Free Press Journal