Senate to vote on two-year budget Thursday

Senate to vote on two-year budget Thursday
© Greg Nash

The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a two-year budget deal that would substantially increase spending and suspend the debt ceiling for a year.

It is intended to avert a second government shutdown this year and gives lawmakers who wanted more money for the military a big win.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBarr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation Roger Stone witness alleges Trump targeted prosecutors in 'vile smear job' MORE (N.Y.) hailed it as a breakthrough after months of partisan fighting that stalled spending legislation and caused a three-day shutdown last month.

“This bill is the product of extensive negotiations among congressional leaders and the White House. No one would suggest it is perfect. But we worked hard to find common ground and stay focused on serving the American people,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Schumer said it marked the first sign of bipartisanship in months. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“After months of fiscal brinksmanship, this budget deal is the first real sprout of bipartisanship,” he said.

The accord increases defense spending by $80 billion in fiscal year 2018 and by $85 billion in fiscal year 2019, while raising nondefense spending by $63 billion and $68 billion.

It suspends the debt ceiling until March of 2019, ensuring Congress won’t have to deal with the legislative headache again until after this year’s midterm elections.

The Senate is expected to pass the deal on Thursday and send it to the House for final approval, hours before government funding is due to expire at midnight.

The legislation has strong support in the Senate but faces a rockier path in the House, where conservatives don’t like the big spending increases and Democrats want a promise from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Paul Ryan says Biden likely won't get Democratic nomination Judd Gregg: Honey, I Shrunk The Party MORE (R-Wis.) to debate immigration legislation soon.

House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Malaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations MORE (Calif.) held the House floor throughout Wednesday to speak out on the need to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

The battle over the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump is phasing out, led to a three-day shutdown in January. The Senate bill includes no language on the issue, despite demands from Democrats.

The Senate is set to debate a bill to protect so-called Dreamers from deportation in exchange for stronger border security, but there’s no guarantee the House will act if it passes the upper chamber.

Pelosi vowed to oppose the spending measure unless Ryan promises to take up immigration legislation, as McConnell promised to do next week.

“Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan, comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support,” Pelosi said in a statement at the start of her marathon floor speech.

House Republicans will likely need Democratic votes to pass the spending deal, as conservative Republicans are voicing objections to the big increases in spending and the lack of reforms attached to the debt-ceiling increase.

Ryan praised the package Wednesday for “breaking the logjam on a number of priorities for the American people” and, in an attempt to mollify his right wing, promised future fiscal reforms.

“More budget reforms are needed, which is why we are laying the groundwork for a better process,” he said.

The deal establishes two committees to work on budget and spending reform, along with pension reform.

In another bid to win over conservatives, it will make some structural reforms to Medicare and repeal ObamaCare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, a cost-control program that never got off the ground because critics argued it would take medical decisions away from doctors.

Pro-defense Republicans heralded the defense increases as a major victory.

“This budget agreement is indispensable for our national security,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in Phoenix Moderate Democrats now in a race against the clock Biden on Graham's push for investigation: 'I don't know what happened' to him MORE (R-Ariz.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryLawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban MORE (R-Texas) said in a joint statement.

They argued it would “provide our men and women in uniform with the training, capabilities, and support they need to keep America safe.”

But other GOP lawmakers raised concerns about the impact on the deficit.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.), an outspoken budget hawk, warned that it might be more money than the Pentagon can digest in one year.

“Military spending and defense spending is far above the president’s request,” he said. “I’m all for supporting our military, and I want to make sure they’re funded properly. It’s very difficult to have that big an increase in one year and then be able to use it wisely.”

Federal deficit concerns weighed on Wall Street as well, where interest rates on treasuries have climbed in recent days, putting the stock markets in turmoil. Bond prices dipped and yields rose after McConnell announced the deal. 

The legislation would also provide $90 billion in disaster relief for communities hit by hurricanes and wildfires, more than double the Trump administration’s request.

It includes $23.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund for recovery, repairs and future mitigation, $28 billion for community development block grants and $2 billion to help Puerto Rico rebuild its electric grid.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Cornyn introduce bill to fund school nutrition programs Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (Texas) called it “an improvement over the House version.”

It also includes a two-year reauthorization for community health centers, with $7 billion in total funding, and $6 billion to fight opioid addiction.

Other funding priorities are $4 billion to rebuild veterans’ hospitals and clinics, $2 billion for research at the National Institutes of Health and $20 billion for infrastructure programs.

In a big win for Democrats, it extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) another four years on top of the six-year extension that Congress approved last month.

“American families with children who benefit with CHIP will now be able to rest easy for the next decade,” Schumer said.

He said that seniors and children would also benefit from the deal’s extension of various expiring tax provisions.