Congress reaches deal on US federal spending

Washington (AFP) - Negotiators struck a deal on a $1.1 trillion spending package overnight that Congress could vote on by week's end, a sign of tenuous bipartisan compromise as a fractious year comes to a close.

Architects of the sprawling deal, which would avert a government shutdown, still must rally the necessary support from skeptical rank-and-file lawmakers, but the legislation has the backing from Republican congressional leaders and the Senate's top Democrat Harry Reid.

The fiscal year 2016 spending bill, known as an "omnibus," has become a year-end catch-all that includes priorities from both parties, and leaves out some pet projects that may make it difficult for some lawmakers to sign on.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed confidence that the sweeping measure -- and an accompanying deal on extending tax breaks for millions of Americans -- will pass.

"I have no reason to believe we're going to have a shutdown," Ryan told reporters.

"In divided government, you don't get everything you want. This is the result of a bipartisan, bicameral compromise," he added.

"I think everybody can point to something that gives them a reason to be in favor of both of these bills."

The omnibus lifts the 40-year-old ban on US crude oil exports, for years a Republican priority, while extending solar- and wind-energy tax credits that Democrats say will create renewable energy jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

It makes reforms to the US visa-waiver program in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, but does not include a controversial measure that temporarily halts the program allowing for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the United States.

The omnibus retained the decades-long ban on federal funding for gun research, a major point of contention for Democrats. It also failed to provide assistance for debt-crippled Puerto Rico, which left top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi fuming.

And it includes a two-year moratorium on the so-called medical-device tax, a provision of President Barack Obama's health-care law that angered Republicans and Democrats alike.

- 'A good compromise' -

But Reid said Democrats were able to keep out "troublesome" Republican riders, including measures that would have rolled back banking regulations, undermined labor and environmental rules, and eroded campaign-contribution limits.

"This is a good compromise," Reid concluded.

And while the White House has expressed opposition to lifting the crude-oil export ban and other elements in the omnibus, it said Wednesday it was supportive of the overall result.

"We feel good about the outcome," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

Negotiators also agreed on a package that would extend some 50 tax breaks for businesses and individuals, including the child tax credit, worth about $650 billion.

"That is real money that will help millions of people and provide real growth for our economy," said Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch.

Leading Democrats have warned that the tax provision is not paid for and will add to the nation's debt, with Pelosi declaring the bill an "immorality."

Ryan said the House will vote on the tax extenders Thursday and the omnibus on Friday, before the chamber breaks for the holidays.

The Senate will have to vote after the House, but the timing is not finalized.

Federal funding authority expires Wednesday night at midnight. The House has passed a stop-gap measure that will keep the lights on until December 22, and the Senate is expected to pass it later Wednesday.

Consideration of the spending bill and tax breaks will likely be the last major bills of 2015.

Legislative action is expected to be thin on the ground in 2016, as several presidential candidates ramp up their campaigns to succeed Obama in the White House.

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