US congressional leaders on Wednesday reached a compromise on a $1.3 trillion budget bill which sets aside $1.6 billion for President Donald Trump’s wall along the border with Mexico and contained legislative steps on gun reforms.
The bill also reflects the freeze on military aid to Pakistan worth $2 billion — tied to counter-terrorism efforts — and a further $33 million linked to release of a doctor jailed by Islamabad for helping the US hunt down Osama bin Laden.
Aimed at keeping the government funded till October, the 2,232-page bill must be passed by congress and signed into law by Friday. It is the first part of a massive two-year spending law signed by Trump in February.
As agreed upon at that time, the bill boosts defence spending — a key demand of Trump and Republicans — by $80 billion. It also gives a $63 billion boost to health and social care programmes, a priority for Democrats.
Congressional leaders from both sides hailed portions of the comprise addressed their respective priorities. Republicans said it made the US “stronger at home and abroad” and for Democrats, it put “workers and families first”.
For Trump, the priority was the wall and military spending. “Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming. Most importantly, got $700 Billion to rebuild our Military, $716 Billion next year…most ever. Had to waste money on Dem giveaways in order to take care of military pay increase and new equipment,” he tweeted.
The $1.6 billion will fund approximately 53 km of new fencing on the Texas border, and around 96.5 km of secondary fencing. But the money cannot be spent on new construction designs and must conform to “operationally effective designs”, ruling out the concrete wall that Trump has long advocated.
The compromise bill also had legislative measures on gun law reforms. It incorporates a measure to strengthen compliance with the national background check system for buying firearms. It also ends what is effectively a ban on federal government-funded research into gun violence.
© 2018 the Hindustan Times (New Delhi)
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