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Negotiations yield progress on $1.1T spending bill

By ANDREW TAYLOR

Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers are finalizing a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill that would fund the government while addressing everything from trucker safety to battling Ebola.

The measure is the main piece of business facing a lame-duck Congress that wants to adjourn this week. Republicans will take over the Senate when the new Congress reconvenes next month.

The hope is to unveil the spending measure by Monday evening in anticipation of a House vote on Wednesday.

Also on the packed agenda for the week is renewing the government's terrorism insurance programs that's eagerly sought by the construction industry, a one-year renewal of a package of expire tax breaks for both individuals and business, and a defense policy measure that renews the Pentagon's authority to train Syrian rebels to battle Islamic State militants who control large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Aides to negotiators on the terrorism insurance measure said a deal could be close.

Appropriations Committee aides decline to furnish details but the parameters of the measure was taking shape after lengthy negotiations last week and over the weekend.

The legislation would finance the day-to-day operations of every Cabinet department, provide more than $5 billion of President Barack Obama's $6.2 billion request to combat Ebola at home and abroad, and provide more than $70 billion to conduct overseas military operations, including funds to fight Islamic State extremists.

The bill freezes funding for core government accounts at slightly more than $1 trillion, but the total cost will approach $1.1 trillion after war funding and emergency money to fight Ebola is added in. Veterans' health programs get increases, but large portions of the budget are mostly frozen in place.

Republicans were forced to drop most of a lengthy roster of attacks on environmental regulations on greenhouse gases and tougher clean water standards, but in exchange won cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, dropping it below 2010 levels. The IRS, whose staff has shrunk by 13,000 since 2010, also bears a budget cut in the wake of a controversy over its monitoring of tea party groups and other advocates.

Aides said the trucking industry was on track to win a provision blocking new "hours of service" rules requiring two nights of sleep before the clock would start on a new work week. The food industry appeared likely to win flexibility from new school lunch program requirements limiting sodium and requiring more whole grains in children's lunches. The changes are a top priority of first lady Michelle Obama.

But advocates of easing new regulations that ban most interstate sales of ivory appeared likely to lose despite a lobbying campaign by owners of musical instruments, antiques and guns made with ivory, who say the ban has lowered the value of their possessions.

The Pentagon's budget is essentially capped at current levels despite rising costs for major weapons systems such as the next-generation F-35 fighter.

Republicans remain furious that Obama has used his presidential powers to permit almost 5 million immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally to remain and get work permits. As a result, they are putting the Department of Homeland Security's budget on autopilot until early next year in hopes of blocking Obama's moves after Republicans reclaim the Senate.

The spending measure has mostly been worked out between House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., a 34-year veteran in Congress and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who has served even longer.

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