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US Congress presents $1.3 trillion spending bill

Republican and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress presented on March 21 a $1.3-trillion bill to fund the government through September, Reuters reported March 22.

If passed by the House of Representatives and Senate by midnight on March 23, it would avert the shutdown of many federal agencies and programs beginning the weekend of March 24-25. The Trump administration had earlier indicated that the president would support the measure.

The bill provides $654.6 billion for national defense, including an additional $80 billion, the largest annual hike in base funding for the Department of Defense in 15 years, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations said in a release.

The spending bill allots $21 billion for major investments in infrastructure projects, including transportation, energy, water, and cyber. "Improving the nation's infrastructure is critical to reliability, safety, and economic growth," the Appropriations Committee said.

The bill also includes $47.8 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, up $5.4 billion over the previous fiscal year, which will go toward bolstering border infrastructure, the number of "boots on the ground," amount of detention space and surveillance technology, the Appropriations Committee said.

Notably, the bill includes $1.571 billion for physical barriers and "associated technology" along the southwest border and provides for more than 90 miles of a border wall system, exceeding U.S. President Donald Trump's request for 74 miles in fiscal year 2018.

"We must also focus on crisis and challenges here at home," the Appropriations Committee added, citing funding of $2.3 billion for school safety and mental health to prevent more incidents such as the Parkland, Fla. shooting; and nearly $4 billion to combat the opioid crisis.

The bill also provides for a $307 million increase above the administration's request for counter-intelligence efforts to thwart Russian cyberattacks in 2018, and another $380 million in state grants to secure U.S. election systems ahead of the mid-term congressional polls in November 2018.

The bill also seeks to fix a "grain glitch" included in the tax law enacted at the end of 2017. Big grain-buying companies have claimed that the glitch gives huge tax breaks to grain producers who sell to farming cooperatives and lower breaks for selling to agriculture companies, Reuters reported.