House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday there is a budget agreement that reflects Democratic priorities but that she and her caucus cannot support it without a commitment from Speaker Paul D. Ryan to hold an open floor debate on immigration.
“This morning, we took a measure of our Caucus because the package does nothing to advance bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers in the House,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has committed to an immigration debate in the Senate next week that he says will be fair to both parties so long as the government remains open.
Ryan apparently is not going to give Pelosi any special commitment.
“Speaker Ryan has already repeatedly stated we intend to do a DACA and immigration reform bill — one that the president supports,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.
With House Democrats not supporting the emerging budget deal and conservatives objecting, the government may partially shut down if negotiators cannot find a way to break the impasse before midnight Thursday, when the current stopgap funding measure expires.
Watch: Pelosi Holds House Floor Seeking DACA Commitment From Ryan
Optimism had been high this week that a second shutdown could be avoided as congressional leaders closed in on a two-year deal to lift the sequestration caps for defense and nondefense spending. They appeared to have an agreement on the caps that would total nearly $300 billion in spending above the sequestration levels for fiscal 2018 and 2019.
“The budget caps agreement includes many Democratic priorities,” Pelosi said in her statement. “With the disaster recovery package and dollar for dollar increases in the defense and non-defense budget, Democrats have secured hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in communities across America. There will be billions in funding to fight opioids, to strengthen our veterans and the NIH, to build job-creating rural infrastructure and broadband, and to fund access to child care and quality higher education.”
Nonetheless, she is effectively filibustering such an agreement from advancing in the House without Ryan’s commitment to an immigration vote. She delivered a floor speech Wednesday about her position, expressing frustration that Ryan has prevented bipartisan immigration bills from being debated on the floor.
Watch: ‘It’s the Custom of the House to Hear the Leader’s Remarks’
“Why a gag rule in the House of Representatives?” Pelosi said. “That is why I am voicing some concerns today.”
Pelosi’s demand for an immigration debate comes a day after key leaders of her caucus were pushing that strategy.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, in expressing his own interest Tuesday in an immigration commitment from Ryan, 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.
Conservatives, like former Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said they were against using queen of the hill. Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group, had suggested weeks ago that queen of the hill was the best strategy for advancing an immigration bill out of the House.
Senate moving forward
Even without House Democrats’ support, Senate leaders were moving forward on the budget deal, given the need to pass a funding bill in their chamber. The House passed its preferred stopgap spending bill Tuesday, 245-182, with only 17 Democrats voting for the measure.
The House measure fully funds the Department of Defense through the end of fiscal 2018, waiving the sequestration cap, and keeps other agencies running on a continuing resolution through March 23. The Senate intends to strip most of that language and add whatever is agreed to in the budget deal, with a CR to keep the government running until an omnibus spending bill can be written to the newly agreed upon levels.
Under the agreement said to be imminent, the fiscal 2018 defense cap would be raised by $80 billion and the nondefense cap by $63 billion. The agreement would also raise the fiscal 2019 caps, likely by a little more, but it was unclear exactly how much, or if a final decision on numbers has been made. The agreement would increase both categories by $26 billion above the figures imposed by the 2011 law before sequestration triggered in 2013, which both parties could claim is a form of “parity.”
In addition to the items Pelosi mentioned in her statement, congressional leaders were also considering funds to shore up the insurance exchanges set up under the 2010 health care law, as well as additional delays to scheduled cuts to Disproportionate Share Hospital payments under Medicaid, according to aides familiar with the talks.
A White House official described the Trump administration as generally “supportive” of the contents of the emerging spending deal, especially its proposed additional military spending.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune confirmed Wednesday that leaders were close to an agreement, and he expressed a hope that it will encompass more than just the budget caps.
“It sounds like we are very close on a budget caps deal, some other things, perhaps debt limit, that might ride on that agreement, that could take the House-passed vehicle, send it back to them for another vote that would avoid any kind of a shutdown,” Thune said on CNBC. “Our leader and the Democrat leader, Sen. Schumer, I think are very close to a deal which would wrap up some of these outstanding issues that need to be resolved.”
The Republican from South Dakota mentioned the possibility of clearing “some unresolved tax issues that need to be addressed.”
The addition of so-called tax extenders could add to problems for House leaders. Many of their members don’t want to renew the expired tax breaks.
But the biggest problem House GOP leaders face is getting Democrats on board because the budget caps deal has conservatives balking at the amount of increased spending, particularly on nondefense.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Tuesday he thinks at least 90 House Republicans could vote “no” on a big-spending package, and likely 100 or more if leaders tack on the debt ceiling.
Debt ceiling question
Treasury has requested Congress extend the debt ceiling by the end of the month, and it was always expected to hitch a ride with the budget caps, given that both will require Democratic support to pass.
But its inclusion appeared to be in flux Thursday morning. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said discussions were ongoing about whether to attach a debt limit suspension.
“To my knowledge, it’s not part of it now, but things could change,” the Maryland Democrat said.
But a House GOP lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a debt ceiling suspension would indeed be added. Lawmakers have discussed extending the date until after the November elections.
Niels Lesniewski, John T. Bennett, Joe Williams, Jennifer Shutt, Paul M. Krawzak and David Lerman contributed to this report.