$1 trillion-plus spending bill taking shape in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Weary after a year of partisan bickering, lawmakers reached a tentative agreement Monday on a sprawling $1 trillion-plus spending bill that chips away at military and environmental spending but denies conservatives many of the policy changes they wanted on social issues, government regulations and health care.

Environmentalists succeeded in stopping industry forces from blocking new clean air regulations and a new clean water regulation opposed by mountaintop removal mining interests. But anti-Castro lawmakers appeared likely to win concessions that would weaken administration efforts to ease restrictions on Cuban immigrants on travel to the island and sending cash back to family members there.

On spending, the measure implements this summer’s hard-fought budget pact between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders. That deal essentially freezes agency budgets, on average, at levels for the recently-completed budget year that were approved back in April.

Drafted behind closed doors, the proposed bill would pay for the war in Afghanistan but give the Pentagon just a 1 percent boost in annual spending, while the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget would be cut by 3.5 percent.

The bill also covers everything from money to combat AIDS and famine in Africa, patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, operations of national parks, and budget increases for veterans’ health care.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said that bargainers had struck an agreement but would not formally unveil it until Tuesday. A House vote is expected Thursday and the Senate is likely to follow in time to meet a midnight Friday deadline before a stopgap funding measure expires.

The generally smooth, businesslike negotiations on the omnibus spending bill contrasts with the ongoing partisan brawl over Obama’s demand that Congress extend jobless benefits and a cut in the Social Security payroll tax. The House is slated to vote on a GOP-friendly version of the payroll tax cut Tuesday; negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate on a compromise measure have yet to begin.

The spending measure, meanwhile, is likely to go over like a lead balloon among tea party conservatives, many of whom believe the August budget and debt compromise didn’t cut enough.

Conservative ire is likely to be magnified once the negotiating outcome regarding dozens of GOP policy “riders” is finalized. House Republicans larded the measures with provisions aimed at rolling back Environmental Protection Agency rules.

On spending, the measure generally consists of relatively small adjustments to thousands of individual programs.

Democrats won a modest increase in funding for schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students.

To placate conservatives, money for disasters will be addressed in a separate bill, though on a parallel track as the omnibus measure. At issue is billions of dollars for disaster aid that would be on top of the $1.043 trillion cap set in August.

It’s a sticky issue for conservatives because approving the disaster aid would bring the total amount of money allotted for agency budgets above last year’s budget. By putting the aid in a separate bill, the GOP can lean heavily on Democrats to pass it.

“Americans will receive the disaster aid that they are entitled to,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chairwoman of the panel responsible for homeland security. She said she dropped a proposal to increase Transportation Security Administration per-ticket security fees to $4 per leg for a maximum of $16 per round trip that would have been used to raise money to finance TSA operations.

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