Congress on edge as budget deal nears vote
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — With the clock ticking toward another government shutdown, Republicans and Democrats in Congress remained at odds Thursday over a sweeping bipartisan budget deal that would boost spending on military and domestic priorities and increase the nation’s debt limit but leave unaddressed the controversial status of young immigrants known as Dreamers.
While lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill were broadly optimistic a shutdown would be averted, the fate of the budget deal remained in flux into the evening, as planned votes go down to the wire.
In the Senate, which has to pass the budget deal first, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., held up the immediate consideration of the bill there because he wanted to force a vote on an amendment that would effectively undermine the whole deal.
Meanwhile, the longer the delay lasts in the Senate, the more time liberal Democrats and Republican fiscal hawks have in the House have to whip up votes against the bill in their chamber. They oppose it on concerns over immigration and deficits, respectively.
The two-year budget deal would lift caps on defense and non-defense spending by $300 billion over two years. It also includes: $6 billion to fight the opioid crisis; $5.8 billion for child care development block grants;$4 billion for veterans medical facilities; $2 billion for medical research; $20 billion to augment existing infrastructure programs; and $4 billion for college affordability.
The measure would extend government funding at current levels until March 23 to allow lawmakers to finalize details on the spending in a separate measure.
As part of the deal, lawmakers would also raise the nation’s debt limit into 2019 avoiding the risk of a potential default.
“I think we will get this done. I feel good about it,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview Thursday morning.
“Part of it depends on the Democrats. This is a bipartisan bill it’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support. I feel very good about Republicans,” he said.
Democrats, disappointed that the measure does not address the status of Dreamers, have protested the spending package and their potential loss of leverage in future immigration negotiations if it goes through.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she will vote against it.
“I’m just telling people why I’m voting the way I’m voting,” she said Thursday. “Many of our priorities are in the bill. But I have an 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 [on immigration],” Pelosi said.
Many lawmakers of both parties privately signaled the expectation that the bill will pass but by a razor-thin margin. The uncertainty was keeping the capitol on edge.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said the president is also concerned about spending in Washington, but that the White House supports the bipartisan budget agreement.
“It lifts caps on defense spending, which is something the Secretary of Defense, the President’s Generals, told they would need to ensure that we rebuild our military and protect our national security,” said Shah.
Shah said the White House will be releasing a budget on Monday. “The budget does move us towards a path of restoring fiscal responsibility. It reduces our deficit by trillions of dollars,” said Shah. Included in the White House’s budget will be the new tax reform bill and “other priorities” from the administration.
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