WASHINGTON - Senate leaders closed in on an agreement Tuesday to award whopping spending increases to both the Pentagon and domestic federal programs as well as long-sought disaster relief money and, perhaps, action to increase the government’s borrowing cap.
The looming government shutdown at midnight Thursday added urgency to the negotiations, conducted chiefly by the Senate’s top leaders, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Chuck Schumer of New York. They met Tuesday morning in an effort to bring the talks toward closure.
“I’m pleased to report that our bipartisan talks continue to progress toward an agreement on spending caps and important priorities all of us are eager to address,” said McConnell.
The GOP-controlled House, meanwhile, was ready to pass a separate stopgap plan to keep the government open for six more weeks. That would allow time to write and pass detailed follow-up legislation to fund the government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
The prospective longer-term budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the government’s troubled health care system for veterans.
Aides in both parties said the budget measure may also contain a provision to raise the government’s $20.5 trillion borrowing cap. Legislation to increase the debt ceiling is always a headache, especially for House GOP leaders whose rank and file hate such votes.
Support among House Republicans for the potential agreement could be helped by the likely addition of more than $80 billion in long-overdue hurricane relief for Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.