WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion congressional budget deal into law Friday after threatening a veto and government shutdown over the measure earlier in the day.
The massive budget deal, which includes $700 billion in defense spending and roughly $185 billion in Veterans Affairs funding, had to be signed into law by midnight Friday to avoid a partial shutdown. Senators passed the measure by a 65-32 margin just after midnight, about 12 hours after it was approved by the House.
Congressional leaders had received assurances from the White House in recent days that they supported the full-year spending plan. On Thursday, administration officials released a statement from the president stating “we must work across party lines to give our heroic troops the equipment, resources, and support that they have earned a thousand times over.”
But on Friday morning, as most lawmakers began to leave Washington, D.C. to travel back to their home districts for a two-week legislative break, Trump took to Twitter to issue the veto threat.
The announcement caught most on Capitol Hill off guard, given that the immigration issues cited by the president had been part of negotiations for weeks.
Democratic leaders said they were unable to reach a deal with the president on border wall funding and extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but Republican congressional officials said on Thursday they were reassured by the White House that Trump’s disappointment over the deal would not sink the entire budget agreement.
In the end, Trump said the defense funding aspects of the budget bill made it too important to veto the legislation.
“Our military is very depleted, but it is rapidly getting better,” he said. “In a short period of time, it will be even better.”
With Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at his side in a White House press conference, Trump blasted Democrats for obstruction during budget negotiations and demanded Congress approve line-item veto authority for him for future budget bills and an end to filibuster rules in the Senate to override minority party objections.
For months, federal operations have been continuing under a series of budget extension bills. As each expired, lawmakers faced late-night legislative deadlines to avoid funding lapses. Twice they failed to meet those deadlines, causing partial shutdowns that mainly affected military personnel overseas and guard units prepping for weekend training.
Finalizing the full fiscal 2018 budget should end those fears for the next six months, until the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1. It also gives Pentagon officials a sudden infusion of cash for training and modernization priorities, many of which had been sidelined due to the erratic budgeting process.
It features a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops (which began in January), a 21 percent increase in both defense research and development (to $89.2 billion) and procurement (to $144.3 billion), and $238 billion for military operations and maintenance, almost $1 billion more than what the White House had requested.
The February spending deal reached by lawmakers also included new budget caps for fiscal 2019, which should lessen some of the political fights for next year’s budget debates.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.