House Democrats are ready to play their trump card.
For months they’ve withheld support for stopgap spending bills in search of a broader budget agreement on lifting the sequestration spending caps and providing a legislative replacement to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that is scheduled to end March 5.
House Democrats even held firm against a Feb. 8 continuing resolution that reopened the government after a three-day shutdown last month. Many of their Senate counterparts relented to supporting that measure after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed to holding an open floor debate on immigration, starting the week of Feb. 12 so long as the government remains open.
As chances grow that a budget caps deal could get attached in the Senate to the latest stopgap funding measure to keep government operations running past Feb. 8, the leverage House Democrats have needed to secure an immigration commitment in their chamber may finally be here.
Schumer: A 'Cromnibus' Will Not Pass the Senate
House Republicans on Tuesday are expected to pass, mostly along party lines, a so-called Cromnibus to fund the Defense Department at $659 billion through the end of fiscal 2018, waiving the defense cap set by the sequester, and keep remaining agencies running on a CR through March 23.
The Senate is likely to switch the defense funding to a CR as well and attach language busting the sequester caps for defense and nondefense for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The total increase for the two-year deal could near $300 billion.
Finding an opening
If a budget caps deal is reached, a debt ceiling extension is likely to be part of it and added to the funding bill. Such a move would repel House conservatives, meaning Ryan would need to turn to Democrats for votes if he wants to pass it.
“The Freedom Caucus and his own members are loath to do the defense and the domestic spending caps, so we’re expending them to hold in that position,” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
The New Mexico Democrat said that scenario would provide House Democrats leverage to negotiate with Ryan for floor time on an immigration bill that protects so-called Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who face a deportation threat with DACA ending.
“So this week there’s significant effort at getting the House leadership to commit in the same way Senate leadership has,” Lujan Grisham said.
“And there are several bipartisan, bicameral solutions,” she added, noting the hard part is figuring out how the 50 or more moderate House Republicans who have pushed their leadership to expeditiously address the DACA issue will react.
“We’re making sure that those communications are happening this week,” Lujan Grisham said.
Hoyer suggested House Democrats will want a commitment from Ryan for an immigration floor debate before agreeing to back the budget cap deal.
Specifically, the Maryland Democrat suggested a House procedure called “queen of the hill” that would allow for votes on several immigration measures. Under the process, the bill that clears the required simple majority threshold for passage with the most votes would prevail as the House-passed bill.
Hoyer predicted a bipartisan bill from Reps. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, and Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat, would come out on top over any conservative measure such as one by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia.
Failure is an option
Still, there’s no guarantee of success for the House Democrats’ ploy.
Ryan on Tuesday reiterated that he would not bring an immigration bill to the House floor unless it has President Donald Trump’s support. The president has rejected the Hurd-Aguilar bill, as well as any measure that doesn’t fully fund a Southern border wall.
The speaker also criticized Democrats for holding government funding “hostage” to the unrelated immigration issue.
“They must stop using our troops as pawns in a game of politics,” the Wisconsin Republican said.