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Another shutdown looms as US Congress haggles over spending

[WASHINGTON] US lawmakers were putting finishing touches on an enormous federal spending bill Tuesday, rushing to meet a looming deadline before government funding expires, yet again, in three days.

If no action is taken by midnight Friday, the US government could tumble into shutdown for the third time this year.

Republicans and Democrats have spent the past several weeks thrashing out a roughly US$1.2 trillion deal on spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that "some unresolved issues" remained, but that he was hoping it would be finalised and released later in the day.

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That would give lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans, little time to study, debate and then pass the massive legislation before Friday's deadline.

While negotiations continued, it was clear that the measure would follow the outlines of a 2018-2019 budget deal reached last month that boosts both military and domestic spending by more than 10 percent.

Mr Ryan was expecting "the biggest increase in defense spending in 15 years" - about US$80 billion above current spending limits - a move he said would reverse the damage caused by a decade of budget constraints on the armed forces.

Democrats can meanwhile claim increased domestic spending on issues like infrastructure, education and battling the opioid crisis.

But several politically sensitive riders - elements that are attached to must-pass legislation because they would have little chance of success on their own - were still up in the air, including an effort by Democrats to fund Obamacare subsidies granted to insurance companies serving low-income patients.

One outstanding issue is whether to boost border and immigration enforcement funding, including funding for President Donald Trump's pledged border wall, along with temporary protections for immigrants who arrived illegally in the country as minors.

Last-minute haggling was also taking place over language on abortion services funding and a measure that would tighten enforcement of background checks on gun purchases.

Also in play: possible federal funding for the Gateway project, a multi-billion-dollar commuter rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey.

Trump is reported to be opposed to its construction.

With time ticking away, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said a "fair compromise" had been reached on the basic structure of the catch-all bill, which is known as an "omnibus." "Hopefully we can come to an agreement and pass this this week," Mr Schumer said.

Doing so would avoid an embarrassing hiccup for Washington: a third government shutdown in as many months.

Congress failed twice before to pass a 2018 federal spending bill before the deadline, sending the government into shutdowns that lasted a few days in January, and a few hours in February.

House conservatives were already expressing concern about the latest spending bill, projected to add billions to the US deficit just months after Trump signed a massive tax cut into law.

"Many of us Republicans have a major problem with the amount of spending that's going on here in Washington DC," House Republican Mark Walker told Fox News.

"We must show some true discipline" on fiscal issues, he added.

AFP

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