Border wall, Hudson River project hold up spending bill


WASHINGTON (AP) — Battles over priorities in a huge government-wide spending bill are essentially settled, leaving a scaled-back plan for President Donald Trump’s border wall and a huge rail project that pits Trump against Capitol Hill’s most powerful Democrat as the top issues to be solved.

An agreement could be announced as early as Tuesday.

Efforts to tackle politically-charged immigration issues and rapidly rising health insurance premiums appeared to be faltering.

Capitol Hill Democrats rejected a White House bid to extend protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants in exchange for $25 billion in funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats appeared likely to yield on $1.6 billion in wall funding, Trump’s official request for the 2018 budget year, but they were digging in against Trump’s plans to hire hundreds of new immigration agents.

A dispute over abortion seemed likely to scuttle a Senate GOP plan to provide billions in federal subsidies to insurers to help curb health insurance premium increases.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was working on Trump’s behalf against funding for a Hudson River tunnel and rail project that’s important to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republicans from New York and New Jersey.

Monday’s developments were described by several lawmakers — as well as congressional aides in both parties who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks remain secretive.

House and Senate action is needed by midnight Friday to avert another government shutdown.

The bill would implement last month’s budget agreement, providing 10 percent increases for the Pentagon and domestic agencies. Coupled with last year’s tax cuts, it heralds the return of trillion-dollar budget deficits as soon as the budget year starting in October.

Many battles over policy riders were sorted out in marathon negotiations over the weekend. As is typical, many of the policy issues were melting away.

“We’ve had at least 100 that we’ve taken out,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

For instance, an effort to add a plan to revive federal subsidies to stabilize the individual health insurance market and help the poor cover out-of-pocket costs under President Barack Obama’s health law appeared to be failing. A complicated dispute involving abortion was at fault.

Trump told Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, that he supports addressing the health insurance issue now as part of the catchall spending plan.

Alexander and Collins are seeking to revive payments to insurers, which Trump halted last fall, that reimburse the carriers for reducing out-of-pocket costs for many low-earning customers. Those reductions are required by the Obama health law, and insurers have made up for the lost federal payments by boosting premiums.

The Republicans said their subsidy plan would reduce premiums by up to 40 percent over time. They would also create a $30 billion, three-year reinsurance program that states could use to help insurers afford to cover their most seriously ill, expensive consumers.

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