APPROPRIATIONS

Deal struck on border, new funding for EPA, Interior

This story was updated.

Congressional negotiators reached a deal on border security and agency funding last night that — if President Trump signs — would avert a government shutdown at the end of the week.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) announced that an "agreement in principle" last night had been reached by top appropriators after a series of closed-door meetings.

Details of the measure will be announced when the legislation is drafted and released as soon as today; it would need to clear both chambers and be signed by the president by Friday to avoid a shutdown.

Congressional aides said the accord would provide $1.375 billion in spending for 55 miles of border fencing, a level well short of the $5.7 billion Trump had sought for 200 miles of fencing.

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But in exchange for fewer dollars, Democrats dropped their bid for sharply lower limits on beds for detaining immigrants in the country illegally.

Additionally, the deal will include all seven unfinished fiscal 2019 spending bills, which were held up due to the border security impasse that sparked a 35-day partial government shutdown.

Among the unfinished bills are the Interior-EPA, Commerce-Justice-Science, State-Foreign Operations and Agriculture funding measures.

Lawmakers last month approved a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, that reopened all of government and level-funded those agencies through this Friday.

The agreement comes after a weekend of on-and-off negotiations that had the White House warning about another shutdown.

Momentum seemed to shift yesterday afternoon when senior appropriators held a series of closed-door talks that stretched into the evening. Both sides emerged saying concessions were made.

Save for the Homeland Security spending bill, the six other appropriations bills have been finished since last year and have been waiting to ride on the border measure.

The Interior-EPA bill is expected to provide a modest increase in spending and avoid controversial policy riders, under a deal negotiated in the previous Congress.

Versions released earlier this year had more than $13 billion for Interior and almost $9 billion for EPA.

It was not immediately clear whether the final package would contain Democratic-proposed provisions barring any barriers on five wildlife preserves (including the National Butterfly Center), historical areas and a commercial space launch site along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, Trump, appearing at a rally in El Paso, Texas, last night, seemed to disregard the emerging legislation and did not say whether he would sign it.

"We're building the wall anyway," Trump said. He acknowledged that aides had informed him of the looming congressional deal shortly before he took the stage late last night. He added that he told his staff: "I don't even want to hear about it."

The presient did not mention a potential emergency order to build a border wall but said: "We're setting the stage. ... We're doing whatever we have to do. The wall is being built; it will continue."

During his remarks, Trump also touted the 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government as a positive event.

"If we didn't do that shutdown, we would not have been able to show this country, these politicians, the world what is happening with the border," Trump said. "That is a very important thing we did."

Trump was interrupted by protesters several times during his remarks — whose objections could not be heard on video — and he appeared to struggle with not addressing the individuals.

"Where do these people come from?" Trump asked during one of the interruptions, before gesturing with both hands to suggest the protester was mentally unhinged. "They go back home to Mommy. They get punished when they get home."

Even though the president has yet to say whether he will back the agreement, his supporters are blasting it. Fox News host Sean Hannity said Republicans should reject it. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) was also critical.

"This conference agreement is hardly a serious attempt to secure our border or stop the flow of illegal immigration. It kicks the can down the road yet again, failing to address the critical priorities outlined by Border Patrol Chiefs," said Meadows on Twitter. "Congress is not doing its job."

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said on CNN this morning that conservative opposition may signal the deal is good.

“I would hope Sean Hannity and all the other people you mentioned aren’t running this government," she said. "This was a bipartisan deal. Senate and House. Republican, Democrat. And I think we did an excellent job that all parts of our caucuses can accept.”

Twitter: @GeorgeCahlink Email: gcahlink@eenews.net

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