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US spending deal clinched, could avert government shutdown

US congressional budget negotiators said on Thursday they had reached a deal on federal spending for the remainder of fiscal 2018, two days before a deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown.

The $1.3 trillion spending bill was hailed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress’s top Republican, as marking “the beginning of a new era for the United States military,” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would fulfil Democratic goals.

“This critical funding bill fulfils our pledge to rebuild the nation’s military,” Ryan said.

“It also addresses many of our national priorities, such as school safety, infrastructure, and fighting the opioid epidemic.”

The monster measure, backed by President Donald Trump thanks in part to a last-minute sales pitch by Ryan at the White House Wednesday, was introduced with precious little time to act.

Government funding expires at midnight Friday night, and the House of Representatives and Senate will need to scramble if both chambers are to pass the bill and get it signed by Trump by the deadline.

The deal signals an end — or at least a pause — to the deeply partisan feuding over funding that has roiled Congress for months.

Five times since October, lawmakers have had to pass stopgap funding legislation to keep the government’s lights on. Twice this year the government was allowed to slip into shutdown.

A third lapse would be deeply embarrassing for a Republican-controlled Congress facing mid-term elections in November.

The bill sets defence spending levels, including a 2.4 per cent raise for troops, at USD 700 billion for the year — an increase of USD 61 billion over the 2017 cap.

Non-defence domestic spending will reach USD 591 billion, an increase of about 10 per cent.

Among the sensitive issues addressed in the bill is gun safety, which has been the focus of prominent national attention in the aftermath of deadly school shootings.

Lawmakers said it includes a provision to strengthen compliance with background checks for firearm sales, and one that reverses what has essentially served as a ban on federal research on gun violence.

Eleventh-hour snags on multiple issues, including immigration enforcement, border security and health care payments nearly ground negotiations to a halt.

The bill includes nearly $1.6 billion for construction of almost 160 kilometres of physical barriers and fencing along the US-Mexico border, part of Trump’s promised wall.

But it fails to address protections against deportation for more than a million immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children, an outcome likely to cause a clutch of Democrats to oppose passage.

“I will not vote for funding that continues Trump’s war on immigrants,” House Democrat Luis Gutierrez said.

Another casualty of the last-minute haggling was a bipartisan effort to fund health care subsidies granted to insurance companies serving low-income patients.

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