Monday 22 January 2018

US-Mexico wall demands eased as spending talks advance

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office in Washington. Photo: AP
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office in Washington. Photo: AP

Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram

Congressional negotiators have inched toward a potential agreement on a catchall spending bill that would deny President Donald Trump's request for immediate funding to construct a wall along the Mexico border.

The emerging measure would increase the defence budget and eliminate the threat of a government shutdown on Mr Trump's 100th day in office this Saturday.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Republican negotiators were following the lead of Mr Trump, who signalled on Monday evening that he would not insist on one billion dollar-worth (€910 million) of wall funding now as an addition to the one trillion dollar-plus (€910 billion) spending bill.

Mr Trump told a gathering of conservative media reporters that he might be willing to wait until September for the funding.

Other stumbling blocks remain, but the decision by Mr Trump and his Republican allies to back down on the wall steered the talks on the spending measure in a positive direction.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he was optimistic the talks would produce "an agreement in the next few days".

An existing temporary funding bill expires on Friday at midnight and all sides anticipated that another stopgap measure would be required to buy time for the House and Senate to process the massive spending bill, which would wrap together 11 unfinished agency spending bills through September.

Mr Trump campaigned throughout the country last year promising a wall across the entire 2,200-mile southern border, promising that Mexico would pay for it. But while the idea is a priority of Mr Trump's most fervent supporters, it is resolutely opposed by Democrats and even many Republicans, who see it as wasteful and who prefer other steps like new technologies and additional border agents to curb illegal immigration.

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"I support additional border security funding," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a critic of Mr Trump who dined with the president on Monday at the White House. "But a 2,200-mile wall, I don't think there's a whole lot of support for it."

Mr Trump vowed to fight for the wall.

"The wall is going to get built," he said at the White House on Tuesday. Asked when, he said, "Soon."

Democrats vowed not to give up, either, and look forward to the fight.

"It's not a negotiation," Mr Schumer said. "No wall."

Meanwhile, Mr Trump appeared poised to procure about 15 billion dollar (€13.7 billion) to boost the military. Democrats said they were satisfied with the emerging outlines of the measure, which stick closely to versions of the legislation that were being negotiated late last year.

Senator Patty Murray observed that Republican negotiators "have simply ignored" a roster of "18 billion dollar in extreme cuts" offered by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to lower the measure's cost. The measure would also while maintain foreign aid accounts that Mr Trump has targeted, along with a series of grant programmes popular with politicians in both parties, such as community development block grants.

Read More: Trump woos Democrats in bid to pass big tax cuts

Meanwhile, House politicians returned to Washington on Tuesday evening and faced a renewed push from the White House to revive their beleaguered health care bill in hopes of attracting enough votes to finally push it through the House.

Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus met to consider a proposal to change the Republican legislation to let states get federal waivers to ignore coverage requirements imposed by President Barack Obama's health care law. These include a prohibition against insurers charging higher premiums for seriously ill customers.

The plan "has real merits worthy of consideration for all the Freedom Caucus folks," said Representative Mark Meadows, leader of that group. He helped craft the idea with Representative Tom MacArthur, a leader of a group of Republican moderates.

Meadows and numerous conservatives and moderates opposed an initial version of the bill, forcing House leaders to withdraw the measure before a planned vote last month. Republican leaders are trying to determine if the proposed changes can gain enough votes to pass, but that remains uncertain.

Press Association

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