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CAPITOL HILL — It’s crunch time for lawmakers to keep the U.S. government open, with funding running out at midnight Washington time unless Congress extends federal spending authority for the fifth time in the last six months.
The Senate will vote first on a two-year bipartisan budget deal that would boost spending for the Pentagon and domestic programs by hundreds of billions of dollars, further swelling a federal deficit that was already projected to approach $1 trillion this year.
“I’m confident that no senator on either side of the aisle believes this is a perfect bill,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said. “But I’m also confident that this is our best chance to begin rebuilding our military and make progress on issues directly affecting the American people.”
“It’s a good deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “And it’s a strong signal that we can break the gridlock that has overwhelmed this body and work together for the good of the country.”
Negotiated by McConnell, Schumer, and other leaders of both parties, the agreement gives Congress six weeks to appropriate funds that are in line with spending levels set forth in the deal. To become law, it would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by President Donald Trump.
“I think we will [pass the bill] — I feel good,” Wisconsin Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “This is a bipartisan bill. It is going to need bipartisan support.”
“The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military,” Trump tweeted early Thursday. “Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!”
The accord drew opposition from opposite extremes of Congress’ ideological spectrum, but not in sufficient numbers to threaten passage. Some conservative Republicans blasted it as a surrender to fiscal insanity. Some progressive Democrats, meanwhile, protested the agreement’s omission of any measure to end the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.
“Why can’t we let people that are doctors and lawyers and people that are nurses and people that are in the armed forces stay?” Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois asked. “Vote against this budget.”
Democrats blocked a stopgap spending bill in January, triggering a three-day partial federal government shutdown, in part to protest Congress’ inaction on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration program set to expire March 5.
The president has said he supports a path to citizenship for 1.8 million youths eligible for DACA as part of a larger immigration reform package. The White House is also demanding funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a reduction in legal immigration to the United States, and prioritizing newcomers with advanced work skills.
Bipartisan negotiations have yet to reach a deal on an overhaul of America’s immigration laws, and Trump has rejected a proposal that would pair a DACA solution with limited border security enhancements.
On Wednesday, McConnell restated his intention to start Senate floor debate on immigration reform, including a fix for DACA recipients.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California demanded a similar promise from Speaker Paul Ryan.
“I hope that the speaker will man up [confront the issue] and decide that we in the House can also have what Mitch McConnell guaranteed in the Senate: a vote,” Pelosi said.
For his part, Ryan signaled that he is focused on a different matter.
“The single most important thing we can do to uphold our constitutional mandate to provide for the national defense of the United States is to fully fund our military,” the speaker wrote on Twitter. “This vote is happening in the House soon.”