Senators Reach 2-Year Budget Deal
Updated at 4:52 p.m. ET
Senate leaders reached a bipartisan budget agreement to increase military and domestic spending levels for two years, paving the way for the first long-term spending pact since President Trump took office.
The White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan quickly declared support for the pact, helping pave the way for its passage by the end of the week, despite opposition from fiscal hawks and liberal Democrats.
The plan waives mandatory spending cuts required under a 2011 budget law for two years, which allows for $300 billion in additional spending for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. The Pentagon will get an additional $80 billion this year and $85 billion next year, while domestic spending is increased by $63 billion this year and $68 billion next year.
The agreement was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and marks a major breakthrough that will make it easier to manage the federal government through Sept. 30, 2019.
"No one would suggest it's perfect, but we worked hard to find common ground," said McConnell, who announced the agreement on the Senate floor.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the deal's higher military spending achieved a top priority for Trump. It is $26 billion more than Trump had requested in his own budget, and Sanders said the president believes it will achieve "the strongest military we have ever had."
"This budget deal is a genuine breakthrough," Schumer said, adding the agreement would "break the long cycle of spending crises."
Democrats secured higher domestic spending levels than most Republicans support, as well as funds to combat the opioid crisis, improve veterans' health care and fund the Children's Health Insurance Program for a decade.
The agreement will also allow for nearly $90 billion in additional emergency spending for ongoing recovery efforts related to recent hurricanes and wildfires. There is bipartisan support for that funding, aimed at hard-hit states such as California, Florida and Texas.
The deal also suspends the debt ceiling, which the federal government had been due to reach within the next month, until March 2019.
A long-term spending agreement had long been sought by military leaders, who have been warning Congress that a recent series of short-term funding bills were harming military readiness.
"I cannot overstate the negative impact to our troops and families' morale from all this budget uncertainty," said Defense Secretary James Mattis at the White House. "Today's congressional action will ensure our military can defend our way of life, preserve the promise of prosperity and pass on the freedoms you and I enjoy to the next generation."
A final vote on the budget deal is likely by Friday, which means lawmakers would have to pass a one- or two-day spending bill to keep the government open past the current midnight Thursday funding deadline.
All told, the Republican-controlled Congress is on track to approve about $400 billion in new spending over the next two years, just months after enacting a nearly $1.5 trillion tax cut.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., called it a "bitter pill of sorts we are swallowing on the fiscal side" but said that military needs overrides deficit concerns. Like many Republicans, Collins also maintains that the tax cuts will ultimately spur enough economic growth to make up for the projected $1 trillion loss in revenues over the next decade.
Fiscal hawks like Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters that he could not support the deal. "I can tell you that I obviously consider the president a close personal friend and even if he called me and asked me to vote for this, I'm afraid the answer would still be 'no,' " he said. "I think it's fiscally irresponsible to support it."
The agreement would also create bicameral, bipartisan congressional commissions on budget reform and pension reform to report back to Congress by the end of the year. Meadows dismissed those efforts as "window dressing" calling them "a shiny object that, at the end of the day, I don't know will make any difference."
Conservative activists began mobilizing against the budget deal as soon as it was announced. "The country cannot afford an irresponsible plan that welcomes back trillion-dollar deficits with open arms. Congress should reject this deal," said Justin Bogie, a senior policy analyst with the influential conservative Heritage Foundation.
In addition, House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are staging a protest of the budget deal on the House floor Wednesday because there has been no progress on an immigration deal. Pelosi said she opposes the budget deal cut by Schumer because there is no similar agreement in the House to soon begin debate on immigration legislation.
In the Senate, McConnell has pledged to begin an open debate on the Senate floor to see whether senators can find 60 votes there on a bipartisan immigration deal to determine the fate of people who were brought to the U.S. as children and do not have legal status. Ryan has not offered a similar pledge, but he has said he will bring an immigration deal to the floor when it's clear what the president will support.
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