US spending bill tackles border, election security, says source

The US Capitol Building is seen at dusk in Washington DC. The US Congress passed a crucial federal spending bill on February 9, 2018 after hours of delay, sending the measure for President Donald Trump's signature to end the nation's second government shuThe US Capitol Building is seen at dusk in Washington DC. The US Congress passed a crucial federal spending bill on February 9, 2018 after hours of delay, sending the measure for President Donald Trump’s signature to end the nation’s second government shuWASHINGTON, March 21 — A federal government spending deal being worked out in the US Congress includes additional funding to boost border security, protect the upcoming elections in November and rebuild aging infrastructure, a source familiar with the negotiations said today.

While the source said a final overall spending agreement had not been reached, other Republican and Democratic congressional aides have told Reuters that leaders plan to unveil their agreement on the US$1.3 trillion spending bill later today.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress have until Friday night to reach a deal before a lapse would force federal agencies to suspend operations. The current plan would provide for government funding through Sept. 30, after a series of short-term funding measures implemented since last fall.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate said yesterday they were close to a deal and hoped to complete legislation by Friday as they worked to overcome divisions over several thorny issues such as President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

So far, the package provides US$1.6 billion for some fencing along the US border with Mexico and other technological border security efforts, the source said.

Trump had sought US$25 billion for a full wall, but negotiations fell through to provide more money in exchange for protections for “Dreamers,” young adults who were brought illegally into the United States as children.

The spending plan also provides US$307 million more than the Trump administration’s request for the FBI to counter Russian cyber attacks, and US$380 million for US states to improve their technology before November’s congressional election, according to the source.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election campaign, and intelligence chiefs said last month that Russia will seek to interfere in the midterm elections this year by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports. Russia has denied any interference.

The planned spending measure allocates US$10 billion for spending on infrastructure such as highways, airports and railroads. It also includes money for the so-called Gateway rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, the source said.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill if the Gateway project is included. While its funds remain, they are directed through the US Department of Transportation, rather than provided directly, Politico reported.

Additionally, lawmakers’ added US$2.8 billion to address opioid addiction, the source said.

One potential stumbling block includes gun-related provisions prompted by a mass shooting at a Florida high school on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and faculty members. Yesterday, as another shooting swept over a high school in Maryland, House Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers were still discussing a proposal to improve federal background checks for gun purchases.

Another issue tying up negotiations was tax treatment for grain co-ops versus corporate producers, according to Politico. — Reuters

Source: The Malay Mail Online

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