Congress clinches sweeping spending deal, putting off shutdown threat

National/World News

Top congressional negotiators clinched a “deal in principle” to fund the US government, an agreement that comes a little more than a week before the deadline and likely takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table.

The bipartisan foursome of the top appropriators reached the agreement after meeting in the Capitol on Thursday, capping a day of harried negotiations, proposals and counter proposals that will significantly curtail the threat of a government shutdown. Staff will work through the weekend to produce the final legislation, which will likely move in two separate packages that receive House floor votes on Tuesday, according to an aide.

The $1.37 trillion agreement includes all 12 spending bills and came after a day of rushed negotiations and shuttle diplomacy between Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, and his House counterpart Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, along with the two ranking members on their committees, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, and Rep. Kay Granger, a Texas Republican. At various points meetings included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the Trump administration’s point person on the negotiations.

It also came as time was running out to reach an agreement that could be moved through both the House and Senate before the December 20 funding deadline.

The seeds of the agreement were planted in the bipartisan budget agreement reached in July, but for months the two parties, and two chambers, failed to make significant progress on reconciling the spending measures themselves. Regular hold ups, including President Donald Trump’s request of billions in border wall funding, plagued the talks throughout.

But the incentives to reach a deal also remained very real. Punting the funding issue into 2020, through a continuing resolution, would likely lead lawmakers to lose the nearly $100 billion in additional money secured in the budget agreement as the threat of election year politics and a divisive Senate impeachment trial led aides and lawmakers to believe a future agreement was unlikely. Pelosi and McConnell committed to one another during a phone call last month that they would push for a final agreement on all 12 bills — including the thorny Department of Homeland Security measure.

Over the final day of negotiations, one that started with people involved questioning whether a deal was even possible, a list of dozens of outstanding issues was narrowed down piece by piece through the various meetings. The final meeting between the “four corners” of Shelby, Lowey, Granger and Leahy secured the final agreement. It was the same group that reached the deal to end the longest government shutdown in US history — which began one year ago this month.

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