WASHINGTON — The Senate is inching closer toward reaching an agreement to lift budget spending caps and potentially raise the debt ceiling, but House Democrats are expressing concerns they will lose their leverage in immigration negotiations if the caps deal passes the upper chamber.
With government funding set to expire Thursday, Congress has just two days to pass a short-term measure through both chambers to avert another shutdown.
The House passed a stop-gap measure Tuesday evening that would keep the government funded through March 23, fully fund the Pentagon for a year and provide two years of funding for community health centers. Lawmakers in the upper chamber are negotiating a two-year deal to lift spending caps on both defense and domestic spending, which could be attached to the House-passed spending bill, in hopes of being able to dodge having to pass another continuing resolution.
While top members in both parties continue to try and work out a permanent legislative solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — the Obama-era initiative that extended temporary legal status to foreign nationals who illegally entered the country as minors — before their March 5 deadline, House Democrats expressed reservations about their Senate colleagues plan to move forward on a caps deal without a DACA fix.
Their hesitations follow backlash followed by Senate Democrats caving on their assertion they wouldn’t vote for any spending measure without an immigration plan that provides protections for Dreamers, which resulted in a three-day shutdown in January before the party agreed to vote for a stopgap after receiving assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would bring a DACA bill to the floor for debate.
Democratic Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez said if his party’s leaders back the deal without addressing immigration first, it would be “a complete betrayal.” Gutierrez told HuffPost that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would deserve to lose the support of her caucus if she chooses to back the proposal.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said he was “disappointed” the Senate was moving forward with the caps deal without a DACA deal, but said he has to see what the upper chamber sends back to the House before he can determine whether he supports the measure.
“I don’t know whether the caps deal is a done deal or not. I haven’t seen what the deal is,” Hoyer told The Daily Caller ahead of a DACA meeting with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin.
“The budget caps seem like it’s very close, which is very helpful especially when it comes to the military and that’s what we’re, in the House, trying to get to. DACA, I felt we did make progress today, but we’re not close yet,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told The Daily Caller, adding he doesn’t think House Democrats will block a Senate-passed measure. “I think they’ll support it — that’s the point of making a four corners agreement.”
While lawmakers appear to be a ways off from reaching a bipartisan immigration deal that can pass both chambers, Hoyer said they have started to move closer to coming to a consensus on key details.
“We didn’t agree on anything, but at least we got them talking some specifics– obviously there are wide areas of disagreement, which will not surprise you, but it was useful,” he said of Tuesday’s immigration meeting.