Stopgap Spending Bill to Be Unveiled as Congress Finishes Up

The U.S. Capitol dome. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The U.S. Capitol dome. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Lawmakers are tacking on money for security around Trump Tower in New York and funds for health care for retired coal miners to a stopgap spending bill that would avoid a government shutdown at week’s end.

The temporary budget bill, scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday, would keep federal agencies functioning into next spring, giving the new Congress and incoming president Donald Trump time to approve more than $1 trillion to fund federal agencies through the current government budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

Current spending expires at midnight Friday. Since the measure is the only must-do bill before Congress adjourns, it’s likely to carry several add-ons, including flood relief, money for overseas military operations and help for Flint, Michigan, to fix its lead-tainted water system.

Other items include language to help speed a congressional waiver required next year to confirm retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense and temporary help to maintain health benefits for retired members of the United Mine Workers. Lawmakers will again deny themselves a cost-of-living pay hike that’s fallen out of favor.

One major dispute centered on protecting health care and pension benefits for about 120,000 retired coal miners.

The measure had divided coal-state Republicans. Several supported the bill, but GOP leaders — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — were wary of bailing out unionized workers.

McConnell said Tuesday that that health care help for miners would be part of the spending bill, though no specifics were provided.

At issue are health benefits for retirees whose companies declared bankruptcy in recent years.

Also the subject of last-minute talks was an Obama administration request for $35 million to provide security for President-elect Trump, whose home in midtown Manhattan provides unusual and costly complications for the Secret Service. The trucking lobby appeared poised to win permanent relief from recent Transportation Department rules mandating rest for long-haul carriers, but details were unavailable.

The overall measure would keep the government running through April 28, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday.

The Senate, meanwhile, appears on track Tuesday to pass a $6.3 billion measure boosting medical research and speeding drug approvals. It also includes a $1.8 billion cancer research “moonshot” strongly supported by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of the disease, as well as $1 billion over two years to prevent and treat abuse of opioids and other addictive substances. The nearly 1,000-page package cleared the House overwhelmingly last week, with strong backing from President Barack Obama. It contains a long-overdue overhaul of federal mental health programs.

Biden presided over the Senate during an 85–13 procedural tally on Monday and a final vote is expected Tuesday despite opposition from liberals like Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. She complained that the bill would make it easier for politically well-connected pharmaceutical and medical-device industries to win federal approval for their products while raising risks to consumers.

Also Monday, negotiators wrapped up talks on a massive water projects bill that also contains a controversial package of provisions that wades into a complex, longstanding battle over allocating California’s water resources. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein brokered the accord, which, among other steps, aims to offer relief to farmers and farm communities suffering from the state’s longstanding drought.

But California’s other Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer, ripped the accord, charging that it would harm drinking water quality and severely weaken the Endangered Species Act, threatening salmon and other species. Boxer is retiring and vowed to filibuster the legislation as her last major act in office.

The stopgap spending measure is needed because of a deadlock between Republicans controlling Congress and the Obama administration over spending levels for the Pentagon and a number of other issues, including opposition from conservatives to advancing a huge “omnibus” spending package in the postelection lame-duck session.

The incoming Trump administration and House GOP leaders are also hopeful of winning increases to the Pentagon budget for the ongoing fiscal year in the early months of calendar 2017.

For now, the stopgap measure is serving as a vehicle for $170 million to help Flint, Michigan, repair its aging water system to prevent its water from being poisoned with lead. Other items include about $4 billion to help Louisiana and other states rebuild from floods and other natural disasters, and money to partially meet the Obama administration’s $11.6 billion request last month for war-related money.