House Dem opposition mounts to budget deal

House Dem opposition mounts to budget deal
© Greg Nash

Following the lead of Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse has the power to subpoena its members — but does it have the will? Man who threatened to kill Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi pleads guilty to federal charges The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill MORE (D-Calif.), a growing number of rank-and-file House Democrats are saying they will oppose a budget deal unless they get a commitment from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE (R-Wis.) for an immigration vote.

After huddling in the Capitol basement just hours before the government is set to close, House Democrats appeared to be leaning heavily against a sweeping bipartisan budget deal to keep the government open, despite the deal's endorsement by Senate Democratic leaders. They are citing the absence of a commitment from Ryan to vote on legislation to protect the “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the country illegally as kids.

Pelosi supports the underlying budget deal — indeed, she helped to craft it — but is withholding her support unless Ryan guarantees a vote to shore up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE is terminating in the first week of March.

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By all accounts, Pelosi is not twisting the arms of her troops to join the opposition. But in making her case during Thursday’s meeting, she seemed to be having a persuasive effect.

“I woke up this morning thinking I was a yes, because I’m pleased with the many things that are in it,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said leaving the meeting.

“On the other hand really the only leverage we have right now is not giving Paul Ryan our votes, if he doesn’t need them.”

Beyer said he’s now voting no.

“Anyone who underestimates Pelosi’s ability to influence the Democratic caucus shouldn’t be in the business that you’re in,” said Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanFraming our future beyond the climate crisis Overnight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling US says about 1,500 citizens remain in Afghanistan MORE (D-Calif.).  “Pelosi is a very persuasive person.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) officially announced it would oppose the budget caps deal following the Thursday night meeting.

The legislative game of chicken comes over a bipartisan budget deal that would set the stage to boost federal spending for defense and nondefense programs by $300 billion over the next two years and raise the debt ceiling for one year. It would fund the government until March 23, which will give lawmakers time to write an omnibus spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year.

 The deal also includes a number of other priorities for both parties, including money for disaster relief, the opioid crisis, the Children's Health Insurance Program and community health centers.

With dozens of conservatives poised to oppose the budget deal over deficit spending concerns, Ryan and House GOP leaders will be forced to reach across the aisle for Democratic votes. The exact math remains unclear, but Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossPut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately Biden faces lasting blemish from Afghanistan exit Biden needs a Middle East strategy to avoid new crises MORE (R-Fla.), a senior member of the GOP whip team, predicted the Republicans would need around 75 Democrats to get the budget deal over the finish line.

But Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (D-N.C.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, estimated that less than 40 Democrats would support the bill.

“They’re going to get to 175, 180, and they’re going to hit a ceiling,” said Butterfield, former head of the Congressional Black Caucus. “And then Speaker Ryan is going to panic and then he’s got to make a decision whether to shut the vote down and let the government shut down, or make a very benign commitment – and that is to debate the DACA, the Dreamer bill.”

“If he were to call on our leaders in a few minutes and make it crystal clear that he is willing to entertain floor debate on DACA, then I think he’ll get the votes to pass it,” he added.

With GOP leaders needing at least dozens of Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown, the growing feeling among many Democrats is that this is their chance to use their leverage to get concessions from Ryan on immigration.

“I just feel like, at some point, we just have to stand up because it’s the right thing to do,” said Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyEnergy & Environment — Biden confident in separate climate funds US not considering gas export ban, official says Hillicon Valley — Dems press privacy groups over kids' safety MORE (D-Ill.), who grew emotional and began tearing up as she spoke. “We have leverage now. They don’t have the votes.”

“Just tell us that you’ll have a vote [on DACA.] Not even that it will pass,” she added.

Schakowsky added that Pelosi’s marathon House floor speech on Wednesday “wasn’t for nothing, when she stood for eight hours.”

Immigration is not the only issue causing Democrats to balk. A number of lawmakers said they simply can’t support the hike in defense spending, which was demanded by GOP leaders in a bid to win over conservative support.

“They’re spending money on defense that the army didn’t ask for,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “These people have gone wild.”

Asked how many Democrats would support the measure, Cleaver was terse.

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“Not many,” he said. “Probably not enough to make it go.”

Pelosi has come under fire from immigrant rights advocates since the 2018 budget fight began last September. The critics contend she didn’t fight hard enough to force a DACA provision onto short-term spending bills when the Democrats had leverage. Pelosi’s marathon speech Wednesday urging Ryan to act on DACA was meant, at least in part, to assure the critics that the fate of the Dreamers is a top priority.

Still, Democratic leaders are not whipping the vote. Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderHouse passes bill to strengthen shipping supply chain Five takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill House passes giant social policy and climate measure MORE (Ore.), a Blue Dog Democrat who expressed concern with the hundreds of billions of dollars in increased deficit spending in the package, said Pelosi applied no pressure.

”Do what you want to do, she said,” Schrader relayed.

Leaving the meeting, Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden should seek some ideological diversity Biden says 'consumer spending has recovered' to pre-pandemic levels Build Back Better is a 21st century New Deal MORE (D-La.), head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), bashed the Republicans for “offering a false choice” between shoring up DACA and funding the government.

“That’s a stupid choice,” Richmond said, heading into another meeting of CBC members in search of a position.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), meanwhile, is releasing a whip notice Thursday night urging its liberal members to oppose the package, largely over Ryan’s inaction on DACA.

“If he hasn’t put it on the table, it’s a non-starter,” said Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill MORE (D-Wis.), who heads the  CPC.

To be sure, not all Democrats are opposing the budget package, which includes a host provisions they favor.

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJan. 6 committee chair says panel spoke to William Barr Sunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump to sit for interview MORE (D-Miss.), a CBC member, said he’s supporting the package for a simple reason.

“I like the stuff that’s in it,” he said.

Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthOn the Money — Student borrowers stare down rising prices More than 30 million families to lose child tax credit checks starting this weekend On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (Ky.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, is also supporting the package, but strongly suggested he’s in the minority within the Caucus. If Republicans need 75 Democrats to pass the bill, “that might be questionable,” he said.

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“If it’s less, probably more likely,” Yarmuth said.

And Rep. Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Florida redistricting plan faces opposition from DeSantis DeSantis proposes Florida redistricting map MORE, a Florida Democrat, also said he was leaning towards supporting the package because of the disaster aid for hurricane-ravaged regions like his home state.

Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit MORE (D-Calif.) said Democrats were “split” over the deal and predicted that some of them would back the package, but declined to say how many.

Many Democrats were careful not tip their hands as GOP leaders scramble to lock down the votes.

“People are convinced that we shouldn’t be broadcasting where we are right now,” Schakowsky said.

Updated at 9:32 p.m.