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Congress, WH Seek Budget Deal          03/19 06:19

   Congressional leaders and the White House are pressing to strike an accord 
on a $1.3 trillion catchall spending bill, though disputes remain over 
immigration, abortion and a massive rail project that pits President Donald 
Trump against his most powerful Democratic adversary.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional leaders and the White House are pressing to 
strike an accord on a $1.3 trillion catchall spending bill, though disputes 
remain over immigration, abortion and a massive rail project that pits 
President Donald Trump against his most powerful Democratic adversary.

   An agreement by Monday would pave the way for a House vote on Wednesday. 
Action is needed by midnight Friday to avert another government shutdown.

   The bipartisan measure is loaded with political and policy victories for 
both sides. Republicans and Trump are winning a long-sought budget increase for 
the Pentagon while Democrats obtain funding for infrastructure, the opioid 
crisis and a wide swath of domestic programs.

   The bill would implement last month's big budget agreement, providing 10 
percent increases for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies when compared 
with current levels. Coupled with last year's tax cut measure, it heralds the 
return of trillion-dollar budget deficits as soon as the budget year starting 
in October.

   While most of the funding issues in the enormous measure have been sorted 
out, fights involving a number of policy "riders" --- so named because they 
catch a ride on a difficult-to-stop spending bill --- continued into the 
weekend. Among them are GOP-led efforts to add a plan to revive federal 
subsidies to help the poor cover out-of-pocket costs under President Barack 
Obama's health law and to fix a glitch in the recent tax bill that subsidizes 
grain sales to cooperatives at the expense of for-profit grain companies.

   A White House trial balloon to use the measure as a vehicle to extend 
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, protections for immigrants 
brought illegally to the U.S. as children remained tenuously afloat, aides 
said. Trump killed the Obama-era program in September, but a court decision has 
essentially left it in place, for now.

   "I'm urging the leaders to basically come together and understand there is 
an emergency at hand here --- 780,000 young people have their lives hang in the 
balance because President Trump killed the DACA program. We have to move on a 
bipartisan basis to put it back in business," said No. 2 Senate Democrat Dick 
Durbin of Illinois on "Fox News Sunday."

   Trump, meanwhile, has privately threatened to veto the whole package if a 
$900 million payment is made on the Hudson River Gateway Project, a priority of 
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Trump's opposition is 
alarming Northeastern Republicans such as Gateway supporter Peter King, a House 
member from New York who lobbied Trump on the project at a St. Patrick's 
luncheon in the Capitol on Thursday.

   The Gateway Project would add an $11 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson 
River to complement deteriorating, century-old tunnels that are at risk of 
closing in a few years. It enjoys bipartisan support among key Appropriations 
panel negotiators on the omnibus measure who want to get the expensive project 
on track while their coffers are flush with money.

   Most House Republicans voted to kill the funding in a tally last year, 
however, preferring to see the money spread to a greater number of districts.

   "Obviously, if we're doing a huge earmark ... it's troubling," said Rep. 
Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of House conservatives. "Why would we do that 
... Schumer's pet project and we pass that under a Republican-controlled 
Senate, House and White House?"

   Schumer has kept a low profile, avoiding stoking a battle with the 
unpredictable Trump. One potential resolution is to include money for Gateway 
but not specifically earmark it for the project.

   There's also a continuing battle over Trump's long-promised U.S.-Mexico 
border wall. While Trump traveled to California on Tuesday to inspect 
prototypes for the wall, what's pending now is $1.6 billion for earlier designs 
involving sections in Texas that double as levees and 14 miles (23 kilometers) 
of replacement fencing in San Diego.

   It appears Democrats may be willing to accept wall funding, but they are 
battling hard against Trump's demands for big increases for immigration agents 
and detention beds they fear would enable wide-scale roundups of immigrants 
illegally living in the U.S.

   Meanwhile, a White House trial balloon to trade additional years of wall 
funding for a temporary reprieve for immigrants brought to the country 
illegally as children --- commonly called "Dreamers" --- landed with a thud 
last week.

   Republicans are holding firm against a provision by Sen. Patty Murray, 
D-Wash., designed to make sure that Planned Parenthood, intensely disliked by 
anti-abortion Republicans, receives a lion's share of federal family planning 

   But another abortion-related provision --- backed by House Speaker Paul 
Ryan, R-Wis. --- that would strengthen "conscience protection" for health care 
providers that refuse to provide abortions remained unresolved heading into the 
final round of talks, though Democrats opposing it have prevailed in the past.

   One item that appears likely to catch a ride on the must-pass measure is a 
package of telecommunications bills, including a measure to free up airwaves 
for wireless users in anticipation of new 5G technology.


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