US lawmakers clinch spending deal to avert government shutdown

Updated 22 March 2018
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US lawmakers clinch spending deal to avert government shutdown

WASHINGTON: US congressional budget negotiators said Wednesday they had reached a deal on federal spending for the remainder of fiscal 2018, two days before a deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown.
The $1.3 trillion spending bill was hailed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress’s top Republican, as marking “the beginning of a new era for the United States military,” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it would fulfill Democratic priorities.
It was introduced with precious little time to act. Government funding expires at midnight Friday night, and the House of Representatives and Senate will need to scramble if both chambers are to pass the measure and get it signed by President Donald Trump by the deadline.
The White House later said Trump supported the deal.
It signals an end — or at least a pause — to the deeply partisan feuding over funding that has roiled Congress for months.
Five times lawmakers have had to pass stopgap funding legislation to keep the government’s lights on, and twice this year the government was allowed to slip into shutdown.
A third lapse would be deeply embarrassing for a Republican-controlled Congress facing mid-term elections in November.
The bill sets defense spending levels, including a 2.4 percent raise for troops, at $700 billion for the year, an increase of $61 billion over the 2017 level.
Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly raised the alarm about the country’s military and how it has been severely depleted from budgetary constraints.
Non-defense domestic spending will reach $591 billion, an increase of about 10 percent.
Eleventh-hour snags on multiple issues, including immigration enforcement, border security, infrastructure and health care payments, had bogged down the release of the monster measure.
The bill includes nearly $1.6 billion for construction of almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) of physical barriers and fencing along the US-Mexico border.
And while it does not include any provisions that defund so-called sanctuary cities, where authorities do not take action against undocumented immigrants who don’t commit crimes, it fails to address protections for more than a million immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children.
Democrats can meanwhile claim increased domestic spending on issues like infrastructure, education and battling the opioid crisis.


Japan minister apologizes after ‘sexy yoga’ claims

Updated 16 min 47 sec ago
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Japan minister apologizes after ‘sexy yoga’ claims

TOKYO: Japan’s education minister apologized Wednesday for using an official car to visit a yoga studio, but denied claims that the facility was offering “sexy private yoga.”
The row is the latest headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which is already under fire after two cronyism scandals and sexual harassment claims against a top finance ministry bureaucrat.
The Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine on Wednesday reported that Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi visited a yoga studio in the hip Ebisu district in Tokyo using a state car and took private lessons there.
“I apologize for creating confusion amid a tense parliamentary situation,” Hayashi told reporters.
“As the government is facing severe rebuke and criticism, I will serve the public in a more disciplined manner,” he said, in an apparent reference to various scandals involving the cabinet in recent weeks.
“I should have drawn a line between the public and the private, even though this case was in line with rules,” he added.
Ministers are permitted to use government vehicles for private use in between public engagements, local media said.
The magazine described the yoga studio as a “sexy private yoga” studio run by a former porn actress that offers private lessons and oil massages.
But Hayashi said he was simply taking “regular yoga lessons and massages with finger pressure” for better health.
The president of the yoga studio has denied that she was ever a porn actress and is demanding a correction and an apology from the magazine.
“I firmly deny the article which presents an indecent image and is completely different from the facts,” she said.
The studio’s website says it offers private lessons for men or couples.
Support for Abe’s government has flagged due to two cronyism scandals and criticism of the way the finance ministry has handled claims that its top bureaucrat sexually harassed female reporters.
Around half of voters now disapprove of Abe’s administration, and a similar number want his Finance Minister Taro Aso to step down, polls published Monday found.
The polls bode ill for Abe’s bid to be reelected party chief in September in a vote he was once expected to win easily.