U.S. lawmakers hit snag over vaccine costs in bill to battle coronavirus

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump neared agreement on Tuesday on legislation to battle the spreading coronavirus with as much as $9 billion, but a dispute over the cost of vaccines held up a deal, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate hoped to resolve the dispute and approve the emergency legislation by the end of this week.

A source close to the negotiations, who asked not to be identified, said that two issues must first be resolved: Democrats insist that the spending bill contain language stating that any coronavirus vaccine be priced at a “fair and reasonable” level. Democrats also want the government to help pay for vaccines to help those who might not be able to afford them.

Republican aides were not immediately available for comment.

Trump said the measure would appropriate about $8.5 billion – far above the $2.5 billion he initially requested last month. And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, noting that the measure was still being written in Congress, said it could inject “$8 or $9 billion” into the U.S. economy.

Depending on when Republicans and Democrats settle their dispute, the bill could be debated by the full House on Wednesday or Thursday. Once passed by the House, the Senate is expected to attempt to act promptly.

The legislation is one part of a multipronged approach emerging from Washington following multiple deaths in Washington state this week from illnesses caused by the highly contagious coronavirus.

Earlier on Tuesday the Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a half percentage point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25% in an attempt to cushion the economy against the impact of the virus, which could slow consumer spending and disrupt business activities.

U.S. health officials have been ramping up the government’s ability to do more testing of patients suspected of having been infected by the new coronavirus, which was first detected in China late last year.

There also are efforts by pharmaceutical companies and Washington to speed the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.

While details were still not available, the House’s emergency spending could contain money to help state and local governments respond to local health emergencies and possibly provide interest-free loans for small businesses affected by an outbreak, Democratic lawmakers said.

On Wednesday, the top four leaders of the House and Senate are scheduled to be briefed by Capitol officials on responses to the coronavirus and the possible impact on day-to-day operations of Congress.

A senior House Democratic aide said there have been no discussions of limiting tourism in the Capitol complex or shutting public galleries for viewing House and Senate debates.

Last Friday, House lawmakers were advised to develop alternative work arrangements for aides if the virus becomes widespread.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump signs budget deal after raising government shutdown threat

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks, as he stands next to Congress' $1.3 trillion spending bill, during a signing ceremony, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump signed Congress’ newly passed $1.3 trillion budget bill on Friday, ending several hours of confusion spurred by a tweeted veto threat that raised the specter of a government shutdown.

Trump said he had signed the bill, despite his qualms on some issues, because a $60 billion increase in military spending had convinced him it was a worthwhile compromise.

“But I say to Congress I will never sign another bill like this again,” he told reporters. “I’m not going to do it again.”

White House and Capitol Hill aides had been left scrambling earlier in the day after Trump criticized the six-month spending bill, despite prior assurances from the administration that he would sign it ahead of a looming midnight deadline.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump wrote on Twitter at 9 a.m. EDT.

But by early afternoon, he appeared before reporters in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House to announce he had signed the measure.

“There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about in this bill,” he said, patting the more than 2,000 pages of the legislation stacked on a purple box beside him.

It was unclear how seriously Republican leaders took Trump’s shutdown threat. Neither Speaker Paul Ryan nor Senate Leader Mitch McConnell commented publicly on it.

Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Senate and House of Representatives had already left Washington for a scheduled two-week spring recess, and Trump himself was scheduled on Friday to fly to Florida for a weekend at his private resort.

IMMIGRATION CONCERNS

Trump has been frustrated that Congress has not turned over funding to make good on his campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill includes $1.6 billion for six month’s of work on the project but he had sought $25 billion for it.

Trump also has been at odds with Democrats in Congress over the fate of Dreamer immigrants – those brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

Trump canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gives work permits to the Dreamers and protects them from deportation. The decision is currently tied up in court cases.

He offered to extend the protections, tied to a sweeping set of changes to immigration laws, but subsequently rejected bipartisan offers from lawmakers.

As the six-month spending budget deal was coming together, there had been reports Trump had balked at the bill and had to be persuaded by Ryan to support it.

The conservative wing of Trump’s party had panned the bill because of its spending increases and some deficit hawks cheered Trump’s Friday morning threat to veto it.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump threatens to veto spending bill, raising government shutdown risk

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah M

By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump made a surprising threat to veto Congress’ newly passed $1.3 trillion spending bill, a move that raised the specter of a possible government shutdown ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to keep federal agencies open.

In a tweet on Friday morning Trump said he was displeased about immigration issues in the bill, even though the White House had given assurances on Thursday that he would sign it. Lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives, which both are dominated by Trump’s fellow Republicans, had left Washington after passing the measure.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump wrote.

Trump has sought to make good on his campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the bill includes $1.6 billion for six month’s of work on the project, although he had sought $25 billion for it. In a tweet on Thursday he had seemed not to have a problem with partial funding because “the rest will be forthcoming.”

Trump also has been at odds with Democrats in Congress over the fate of Dreamer immigrants – those brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

At the White House, many aides were caught by surprise by the veto threat and were scrambling for answers. There was no immediate explanation for what prompted the threat other than Trump’s frequent complaints that he felt Democrats were unwilling to move his way on immigration issues.

Trump appeared to have tweeted from the White House residence, as there is no Marine guard posted outside the door of the West Wing, which is what happens when the president is in the West Wing.

A White House official would say only that “it’s the president’s tweet” and could not answer further questions. Trump is scheduled to leave later in the day for a weekend at his private resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

There was no immediate comment from Republican leaders in Congress.

THREAT OR BLUFF?

As the six-month spending deal was coming together, there were reports Trump had balked at the deal and had to be persuaded by Republican Speaker Paul Ryan to support it.

Only minutes before Trump’s threat, Ryan had tweeted: “Our men and women in uniform have earned a pay raise. That’s why yesterday, we voted to provide the biggest pay raise for our troops in 8 years.”

Conservatives and deficit hawks in Trump’s party had panned the bill because of its spending increases. Some cheered his threat to veto it.

“Please do, Mr. President,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said on Twitter. “I am just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus.”

Democratic lawmakers said Trump created his own crisis by canceling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gives work permits to certain young immigrants and protects them from deportation. The decision is currently tied up in court cases.

Trump had agreed to extend the program if Congress agreed to sweeping changes in immigration laws and provided $25 billion to build the wall and increase border security. Democrats rejected the plan.

“NOW you care about the Dreamers Mr. President?” Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky said on Twitter. “Six months after throwing their lives into chaos? Is this a cruel joke?”

In a hastily arranged news conference on Thursday, Trump’s budget director and top legislative aide insisted he would sign the bill and tried to cast the $1.6 billion in funding for border security as a downpayment on Trump’s wall pledge.

“It does a lot of what we wanted – not everything we wanted – but a lot of what we wanted on immigration,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump threatens to veto spending bill over DACA, border wall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he was considering vetoing Congress’ $1.3 trillion spending bill over immigration issues, including full funding for his proposed border wall and young ‘Dreamer’ immigrants.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Justin Mitchell; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. spending bill tackles border, election security: source

FILE PHOTO: U.S. border patrol officers are pictured near a prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal government spending deal being worked out in the U.S. Congress includes additional funding to boost border security, protect the upcoming elections in November and rebuild aging infrastructure, a source familiar with the negotiations said on Wednesday.

While the source said a final overall spending agreement had not been reached, other Republican and Democratic congressional aides have told Reuters that leaders plan to unveil their agreement on the $1.3 trillion spending bill later on Wednesday.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress have until Friday night to reach a deal before a lapse would force federal agencies to suspend operations. The current plan would provide for government funding through Sept. 30, after a series of short-term funding measures implemented since last fall.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate said on Tuesday they were close to a deal and hoped to complete legislation by Friday as they worked to overcome divisions over several thorny issues such as President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

So far, the package provides $1.6 billion for some fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico and other technological border security efforts, the source said.

Trump had sought $25 billion for a full wall, but negotiations fell through to provide more money in exchange for protections for “Dreamers,” young adults who were brought illegally into the United States as children.

The spending plan also provides $307 million more than the Trump administration’s request for the FBI to counter Russian cyber attacks, and $380 million for U.S. states to improve their technology before November’s congressional election, according to the source.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election campaign, and intelligence chiefs said last month that Russia will seek to interfere in the midterm elections this year by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports. Russia has denied any interference.

The planned spending measure allocates $10 billion for spending on infrastructure such as highways, airports and railroads. It also includes money for the so-called Gateway rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, the source said.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill if the Gateway project is included. While its funds remain, they are directed through the U.S. Department of Transportation, rather than provided directly, Politico reported.

Additionally, lawmakers’ added $2.8 billion to address opioid addiction, the source said.

One potential stumbling block includes gun-related provisions prompted by a mass shooting at a Florida high school on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and faculty members. On Tuesday, as another shooting swept over a high school in Maryland, House Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers were still discussing a proposal to improve federal background checks for gun purchases.

Another issue tying up negotiations was tax treatment for grain co-ops versus corporate producers, according to Politico.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)

Trump signs tax, government spending bills into law

U.S. President Donald Trump sits at his desk before signing tax overhaul legislation in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., December 22, 2017.

By Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump signed Republicans’ massive $1.5 trillion tax overhaul into law on Friday, cementing the biggest legislative victory of his first year in office, and also approved a short-term spending bill that averts a possible government shutdown.

Trump said he wanted to sign the tax bill before leaving Washington on Friday for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, rather than stage a more formal ceremony in January, so he could keep his promise to finish work before Christmas.

“I didn’t want you folks to say I wasn’t keeping my promise. I’m keeping my promise,” he told reporters in the White House.

The two pieces of legislation represent Trump’s most significant accomplishment with Congress since taking office in January, as well as a sign of what awaits when he returns from Florida after the Christmas holiday.

The tax package, the largest such overhaul since the 1980s, slashes the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and temporarily reduces the tax burden for most individuals as well.

Trump praised several companies that have announced employee bonuses in the wake of the bill’s passage, naming AT&T, Boeing, Wells Fargo, Comcast and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“Corporations are literally going wild over this,” he said.

Democrats had opposed the bill as a giveaway to the wealthy that would add $1.5 trillion to the $20 trillion national debt during the next decade.

The spending bill extends federal funding through Jan. 19, largely at current levels. It does nothing to resolve broader disputes over immigration, healthcare and military spending.

Republicans also are divided over whether to follow up their sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code with a dramatic restructuring of federal benefit programs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he would like to revamp welfare and health programs but Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told National Public Radio on Monday that he was not interested in cutting those programs without Democratic support.

Trump’s year also closes with significant turnover of many top staffers who had been in the White House since early in his term. On Friday, the White House confirmed Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn and Jeremy Katz, who worked under White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, were leaving.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Trott)