House passes $1T spending bill as budget talks resume

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House passed a $1 trillion spending bill Wednesday that amounts to an opening bid in a guns vs. butter fight with the Trump administration, with both sides trying to avert the return of drastic automatic spending cuts or a budgetary impasse that could put federal agencies on autopilot.

The House voted along party lines to pass the bill, which blends military spending that’s a priority for Republicans with Democratic-sought funding increases for health and education programs.

It came as senior leaders of Congress were meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top White House officials in hopes of forging an agreement to increase the government’s so-called debt limit and to strike a bipartisan balance between the Pentagon budget and funding for domestic agencies.

The measure far exceeds Trump’s budget request for domestic programs, attracting a White House veto threat, and denies him his full Pentagon budget increase. It also contains policy “riders” related to abortion and other hot-button issues that drove away potential GOP supporters, though Democrats sidestepped a potentially divisive battle by preserving a longtime ban on taxpayer-financed abortion.

“We produced what I believe to be historic number investments in working people, in students, in parents, in children, in families, and in our future,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the measure’s key author, told her colleagues at a morning meeting.

Wednesday afternoon’s talks — on double-barreled legislation to set new “caps” on spending accounts controlled by Congress and to increase the debt limit — are intended to set a more orderly fiscal agenda that would permit relatively routine passage of both spending bills and drama-free consideration of the debt limit legislation, required this fall to avert a market-rattling default on U.S. obligations like bond payments.

Washington faces a series of deadlines this fall, first to avert a repeat of this year’s partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts in October. In late October or so, the government is scheduled to run out of authority to borrow money to pay all its bills, which could lead to a default on U.S. interest payments on its debt. Automatic spending cuts known as sequestration could strike early next year and cut about 10 percent from agency budgets.

Wednesday’s Democratic spending bill boosts the Pentagon budget by about $16 billion over current levels, about a 2 percent increase, while giving health, education and labor programs an almost 7 percent boost. Those numbers would have to balance out more to gain Trump’s signature.

Action on the measure comes as Democrats have been struggling to get their message out above the political din of Trump’s Washington. The bill wraps four of the 12 annual spending measures into one, and Democrats are boasting of gains for Head Start, health research and fighting the opioid epidemic, among the myriad programs covered by the measure.

It also contains provisions to block Trump from reassigning military appropriations to fund his border wall, and contains significantly more money for family planning, preschool education and child care, and research into dangerous diseases.

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