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Senate Democrats: Boost domestic spending, not just defense

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats, whose support is needed to pass more than $1 trillion worth of Cabinet department budgets, are demanding that domestic agencies receive budget increases, not just the Pentagon.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other top Democrats delivered the message in a letter to GOP leaders on Monday that also restated their opposition to President Donald Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The message came as lawmakers faced the return of automatic spending cuts commonly known as sequestration that were the lingering consequence of a 2011 budget deal. Earlier this year, lawmakers wrapped up a bipartisan catchall spending bill that was a product of a 2015 compromise that eased the cuts through the ongoing 2017 budget year.

At the same time, Republicans controlling the House are nearing a pact on their budget framework that would blow through such sequestration “caps” on defense spending by more than $70 billion, while forcing cuts to nondefense programs that are below current levels.

The House Budget Committee appears on track to vote on the measure this week. The GOP plan is a building block for allowing the Republican-controlled Congress to tackle a rewrite of the U.S. tax code this fall, a top priority of GOP leaders and President Donald Trump.

The GOP budget plan would promise a balanced federal ledger in a decade, but Republicans have no intention of actually implementing the document. Instead, their plans to increase defense would increase the deficit in coming years.

But there’s no bipartisan framework for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, and battles over the border wall and spending levels make it likely there would be a protracted impasse this fall and a real possibility of a partial government shutdown.

Capitol Hill’s defense policy committees are preparing to vote on legislation that would sharply increase funding for defense, adding almost $40 billion on top of Trump’s already generous proposed $54 billion increase for the Pentagon. At the same time, Trump is pressing to cut domestic agencies deeply below current levels, though many Republicans have registered their opposition.

“In the same way sequestration has undermined military readiness, sequestration has inhibited economic growth and job creation by failing to adequately invest in the infrastructure that makes our communities thrive,” the Democrats said. “These shortfalls hurt the American people, our economy and make us less secure as a nation.”

Democratic support is required to pass the annual round of appropriations bills, and Democrats were largely pleased with the results of last month’s spending bill, which rejected Trump’s request to start construction of the border wall and rejected cuts sought by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Democrats say nondefense programs should receive increases equal to those given defense, but they settled for less in this year’s wrap-up spending bill.

The letter, also signed by top Appropriations panel Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, warns Republicans against seeking to enact a handful of spending bills for the Pentagon and other popular agencies while failing to act on bills funding other Cabinet Departments.

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