House Democratic leaders responded Wednesday with reservations to the emerging budget deal, as few would commit publicly to the framework and none would say how many rank-and-file members would support it.
Only Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., stated his outright support for the agreement, which would shrink the sequester for two years but without raising any tax revenue. Most Democrats are concerned about extending unemployment benefits set to expire Dec. 28. But while leaders decried Republicans for not wanting to pass UI, they also largely declined to acknowledge in front of the cameras the political reality: Without a must-pass vehicle, jobless benefits are all but impossible to pass.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would not say how she plans to vote but did not have many positive takes on the deal. According to aides, Republicans are going to need a good chunk of votes to approve the agreement, as they expect to lose quite a few Democrats.
"Our caucus is just finding all of this out this morning. And so they will carefully review the provisions of the proposal and ask questions of our conferees and members will make their decisions. I don't know where that will come down because as you know, our budget that Mr. Van Hollen and the conferees were putting forth was quite different," Pelosi said. "It was about growth. It was about investing in infrastructure. It was about ... investing in early childhood learning. It was about ending the sequester but doing so in a way that would enable us again to support growth as well as to extend the unemployment insurance. It's absolutely unconscionable that we are considering leaving Washington, D.C., without extending those benefits."
Pelosi also noted that passing an immigration overhaul "could have helped in this budget agreement" by generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue over the next 10 years. "If we could had closed even a couple of tax loopholes — but that was off-limits as well — we would not have had to go to user fees for TSA or anything on public employees," she added.
Even more Democrats could fall away if negotiators decide to add the "doc fix" as an amendment to the proposal. Pelosi said she had been hearing Wednesday morning that a provision to boost payments to Medicare doctors is being considered. To approve the doc fix with the budget would remove the possibility of using it as a potential bargaining chip to do unemployment insurance when so few are left.
Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., spoke at the news conference of a personal friend of his in New York who is at risk of losing his benefits and missing his mortgage payments after already seeing a reduction in his food stamps allotment.
But Crowley, too, refused to say whether he would oppose the budget deal because of its failure to create a legislative path forward on jobless benefits. When asked whether the choice was binary, given the difficulties that would border on impossibility if unemployment insurance had to be moved as a standalone bill, Crowley demurred.
"The reality is, Republicans control the House of Representatives. They control what bills come to the floor, what bills don't come to the floor. They will be making the conscious decision not to extend unemployment insurance when we leave here," Crowley said.
CQ Roll Call asked Crowley whether he believed Democrats lessened their chances at getting UI passed by not pushing it during the shutdown, when Republicans were under an intense amount of pressure to do anything to reopen the government. Crowley said the issue was "not about leverage" but about helping constituents.
"It's the responsibility of the majority to set the stage for legislation that helps this country. They have failed in that effort and I think they'll pay a price for it," Crowley said. "Our colleagues are looking this agreement over, as I am, and we'll all come to our own decisions about whether or not there is enough in this bill to warrant our support."