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Senate leaders announce two-year budget deal to fund government, disaster aid

Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Senate leaders announced a sweeping two-year budget deal Wednesday that could end the shutdown threats and stopgap spending measures that have plagued the current fiscal year.

But the bipartisan accord was rejected by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unless Speaker Paul D. Ryan committed to bipartisan legislation to protect some young immigrants from deportation.

Negotiators are racing to prevent another government shutdown Thursday. The agreement would boost defense spending by $80 billion and non-defense accounts by $63 billion, over strict budget caps imposed by an earlier budget deal, according to those familiar with the talks. Republicans have been pushing for the military increases, but Democrats want parity for domestic programs.

The package also includes nearly $100 billion in supplemental disaster aid spending for hurricanes and wildfires that ravaged coastal and Western states, and Puerto Rico -- more than had been suggested earlier in a House bill.

"No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked hard to find common ground," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in announcing the agreement.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., touted many Democratic priorities, including a two-year extension of funding for Community Health Centers, a 10-year extension of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program and $6 billion to fight the opioid drug crisis.

The ambitious accord could help end the cycle of stopgap spending and prevent a government shutdown Thursday, when the latest round of temporary funds for federal operations expires.

Pelosi's opposition, though, thrusts the immigration debate back into the budget standoff, much the way President Donald Trump did Tuesday when he said he'd "love to see a shutdown" over immigration as he pushes for border security money and other limits on legal immigration.

"The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities," Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday. But after surveying the Democratic caucus, she said the absence of immigration legislation was a deal breaker.

Pelosi wants Ryan, R-Wis., to commit, as McConnell did last month as part of the deal to end an earlier shutdown, to consider bipartisan measures to protect young immigrants known as Dreamers as Trump ends an Obama-era program protecting them from deportation. She seized the House floor in a rare filibusterlike speech for more than an hour Wednesday morning to share stories of Dreamers.

The Senate is expected to launch an immigration debate in a matter of days.

"Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support," she said.

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Ryan, however, has made no such commitment on Dreamers, stoking concerns that any immigration bill would simply languish in the House.

The immigration debate drove the three-day shutdown last month, as Democrats pushed McConnell to agree to prioritize the issue, but it had not been part of more recent budget negotiations.

Dreamers, the immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, face possible deportation as Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed them to apply to live and work here. The program was set to end March 5, but a court challenge is allowing it to continue for now.

Lawmakers in both parties say they want to protect the Dreamers as part of a broader immigration bill that would include border security and perhaps other measures, and they believe a bipartisan deal would easily pass both chambers.

However, Ryan is under pressure from conservatives in his majority to stand by his earlier promise not to consider immigration legislation unless it is supported by most of the House Republican majority.

More recently, Ryan has said he would consider legislation that Trump supports, but the president's own shifting views on immigration have made a legislative deal difficult.

Bipartisan groups in Congress continue to meet to strike a deal as the Senate prepares to open debate next.

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