All eyes on House Dems as Congress readies vote on budget

The House and Senate are expected to vote Thursday on a sweeping budget deal that would stave off another shutdown and jack up federal spending by about $300 billion over two years.

The Senate will go first and is expected to pass the bill with relative ease. But the plan could unravel in the House, where conservative opposition is forcing Republican leaders to lean on Democrats for votes as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi digs in with immigration demands.

“Part of it depends on the Democrats,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday morning on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support.”

Right now it’s unclear how many Democrats will support the bill. Democratic leadership is not whipping against the bill but many members, particularly those in the minority caucuses, will oppose the proposal in a show of support for Dreamers.

“I’m pleased with the product, I’m not pleased with the process,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday, later adding she plans to vote against the bill but confirmed she isn’t formally whipping against it. “I’m just telling people why I’m voting the way I’m voting.”

After teasing details of the deal earlier in the day, leaders unveiled the more than 650-page bill just before midnight Wednesday, proposing expansive policy changes and funding bumps for specific programs in every corner of the federal government.

Top House Republicans believe they will get a “majority of the majority” to support the measure, although the House Freedom Caucus and other deficit hawks are against the proposal. There are 238 House Republicans.

“This is not the kind of deal you celebrate,” said House Budget Chairman Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who explained Wednesday that he had concerns he would be voicing to leadership before divulging whether he will vote for the bill.

Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday that GOP leaders are “going to deliver our share of support” and that he feels “very good about Republicans” in the whip count.

“Our members, who are focused on the military, are very happy where we landed with that. We also got a bunch of our other priorities,” Ryan said, noting that the bill would do away with the Obamacare advisory board members of both parties have derided.

But the issue right now appears to be Democrats. Pelosi is “really pushing” Ryan for a further commitment on resolving the legislative stalemate over 700,000 Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

President Donald Trump ended the federal program protecting Dreamers from possible deportation. While a legal fight is being waged in federal court over their fate, Pelosi is seeking Ryan’s assurance that the House will vote on the issue.

“I have unease with it and hope that the speaker will man up and decide that we in the House can also have what Mitch McConnell guaranteed in the Senate – a vote on the floor,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi wants Ryan to open the House floor up to a free-flowing immigration debate, allowing several proposals to come to the floor and the one that gets the most votes win, sometimes referred to as “Queen of the Hill.”

“Bring everything to the floor,” she said Thursday. “All we’re saying is Queen of the Hill, put it all out there, let the House work it’s will.”

Ryan, so far, has refused to commit to anything more than the House would only consider a bill that Trump can endorse.

Yet without those assurances, there may not be enough House support to pass the budget deal.

In contrast to Pelosi and Ryan’s battle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have repeatedly praised the deal — and each other — as a compromise that contains billions of dollars that dozens of senators from each party can support.

“I am confident no senator on either side of the aisle believes this is a perfect bill,” McConnell said. “But I’m also confident that it is our best chance to begin rebuilding our military and make progress on issues directly affecting the American people.”

Although Senate leaders are expected to pass the bill without a hitch, the chamber’s fiscal conservatives — like their House counterparts — are blasting the deal’s price tag.

“I love bipartisanship, as you know. But the problem with bipartisanship is it’s always when we spend more money,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said. “This is something that should remind us what we should be outraged about. And we aren’t.”

The massive package includes $89.3 billion in disaster aid, surpassing the $81 billion allocation the House approved in December for regions hit by wildfires and last year’s trio of catastrophic hurricanes.

As the Treasury Department reaches the upper limits of its borrowing authority this month, the measure would lift the debt ceiling until March 2019, giving lawmakers more than a year without the worry of default.

Beyond what leaders initially previewed, the text lays out extensions of about three dozen expired tax breaks, including credits for rum production and race tracks, as well as several “orphaned” items that were left out of a 2015 deal to phase out incentives for wind and solar energy.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.


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