Pelosi in tough spot as Dems split over GOP funding bill

Pelosi in tough spot as Dems split over GOP funding bill
© Greg Nash

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is facing conflicting pressures from rank-and-file Democrats ahead of a high-stakes vote over the GOP’s year-end government funding package.

Some Democrats are signaling support for the Republican proposal, viewing it as the best chance to secure long-term funding for most government functions while the Democrats still control the Senate. 

Others are calling for a united Democratic opposition to the “cromnibus” bill, both to highlight Republican divisions and to protest spending levels they deem too low. 

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And still others are warning that a core element of the GOP’s spending strategy — a short-term funding extension for the Homeland Security Department (DHS) — threatens national security in an era of heightened terrorist threats.

“It’s a very dangerous game, what these Republicans are doing,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), a member of the Homeland Security panel, told MSNBC Wednesday.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has needed Pelosi’s support to push through several budget bills over the last four years, is hoping he won’t have to go crawling back just a month after winning a huge victory in the midterm elections.

But a number of conservatives are balking at Boehner’s strategy, arguing it doesn’t go far enough to counter President Obama’s move to defer deportations for millions of illegal immigrants.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) urged House Republicans to “stand up” and say, “We will not allocate taxpayer dollars to lawless and illegal amnesty.”

Much will hinge on the precise contents of the package, which GOP appropriators are expected to release early next week. But Pelosi’s minority Democrats could decide the bill’s fate if Cruz’s message takes hold and Boehner is unable to rally 218 Republican votes.

“They’re going to need Democrats to get that passed,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) predicted Wednesday.

Pelosi, for her part, has signaled opposition to the GOP’s two-tiered spending strategy, citing concerns over both national security and the threat of a government shutdown. And many Democrats say that’s the smart approach, politically, as Republicans continue to cobble together the specifics of the package. 

“It obviously doesn’t make any sense to indicate anything but opposition right now, for leverage purposes,” a Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday.

The White House, meanwhile, has urged GOP leaders to fund the entire government until Oct. 1, not just most agencies. But administration officials have yet to issue a veto threat, which could signal that Obama is willing to accept the plan.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the Democrats should reject the cromnibus for the simple reason that it doesn’t fund government programs sufficiently.

“We should be as united as we can in opposition, not in hopes of getting a better deal, but we need to point out the disparity and highlight the differences here [between the two parties],” he said. “Passing this one-year extension doesn’t buy us any time, and it won’t get any better.” 

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), despite reservations about the DHS provision, is backing the GOP’s strategy, saying their bill would be “a big accomplishment.” And a number of rank-and-file House Democrats seem to agree.

“The fact that Homeland Security would be delayed, frankly, in the scheme of things, that’s not the end of the world,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), an appropriator, said Wednesday.

The Democrats leaning toward supporting the measure are quick to note that the package is not yet finalized — and that conservatives are eying a number of policy riders that could lead to overwhelming Democratic opposition. 

But they’re also wary of a government shutdown, as well as the notion that a shorter-term funding package would leave more 2015 spending decisions to the Republicans, who will return to Congress next year with control of the Senate and more power in the House.

A deciding factor could be the presence of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D). The veteran Maryland lawmaker heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, and many House Democrats feel her involvement in the cromnibus negotiations gives the Democrats leverage they won’t have next year.

“What she presents to us is probably the best situation we can get,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).