Sat, Mar 24, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US Congress votes in favor of spending bill

BROKEN PROMISES:The funding bill combined with tax cuts is likely to lead to budget deficits of more than US$800 billion for this year, which could cause re-election issues

Reuters, WASHINGTON

The US Congress yesterday voted to approve a US$1.3 trillion government funding bill with large increases in military and non-defense spending, sending it to US President Donald Trump, who was expected to sign it into law.

With Trump’s signature, the bill would 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 re-elected 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 Oct. 1 last year.

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 last year to approve budget legislation.

Republican Senator Rand Paul spent part of Thursday on Twitter criticizing what he said was unnecessary spending in the sprawling bill.

“Shame, shame. A pox on both Houses — and parties. Here’s the 2,232 page, [US]$1.3 trillion, budget-busting Omnibus spending bill,” Paul said 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 them.”

“This is not the limited government conservatism our voters demand,” he said.

However, not all of the opposition 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 Democrat.

The legislation has provisions that appeal to conservatives with its US$80 billion increase this year to the military budget and more border security funding.

However, significantly higher non-defense spending put conservatives on edge. In the House, 90 of the chamber’s 238 Republicans revolted against the measure.

Coupled with recent tax cuts, the government funding bill is projected to lead to budget deficits of more than US$800 billion for this year.

Conservatives warned it could create problems for Republicans running for re-election in November.

Several Trump initiatives would suffer setbacks. At one point during prolonged negotiations he pushed for US$25 billion in funds to fully build his border wall with Mexico.

The president’s severe cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of State and other federal agencies would also be scaled back.

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