House Dem opposition mounts to budget deal

House Dem opposition mounts to budget deal
© Greg Nash

Following the lead of Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMeadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Overnight Health Care: More states order residents to stay at home | Trump looks to sell public on coronavirus response | Judges block Ohio, Texas abortion bans | Dems eye infrastructure in next relief 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 RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy 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 John TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE is terminating in the first week of March.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 ShermanPelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid House Democrats eyeing much broader Phase 3 stimulus Overnight Defense: Lawmakers clash during Pompeo hearing on Iran | Trump touts Taliban deal ahead of signing | Trump sued over plan to use Pentagon funds for border wall 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 RossThe problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan Fears of 'What's next?' will influence Iran's — and the world's — reactions The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October 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 ButterfieldHouse approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Biden cinches support from third NC House Democrat 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 SchakowskyThe Memo: Virus crisis upends political world Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 5G rivals to Huawei | Amazon, eBay grilled over online counterfeits | Judge tosses Gabbard lawsuit against Google | GOP senator introduces bill banning TikTok on government devices Lawmakers grill Amazon, eBay executives over online counterfeits 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.

“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 votes to condemn Trump Medicaid block grant policy Here are the lawmakers who defected on Iran legislation Group of Democrats floating censure of Trump instead of impeachment: report 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 Levon RichmondHillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Lawmakers criticize Trump's slashed budget for key federal cyber agency Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 PocanStudents with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Overnight Defense: 'Tens of thousands' of National Guard troops could be activated for coronavirus response | Hospital ships could take week to deploy | Trump says military to help Americans stuck in Peru Democrats introduce bill to send coronavirus tests to US troops in Middle East 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 ThompsonHillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline House Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline Hillicon Valley: Internet providers vow to maintain service amid coronavirus | Pentagon looks to revisit 'war cloud' decision | Gates steps down from Microsoft board 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 YarmuthHouse Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Kentucky Democrat: House lawmakers will not vote remotely during outbreak Dem Congressman: Coronavirus stimulus should be bigger than 2008 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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

And Rep. Al LawsonAlfred (Al) James LawsonHouse approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Lobbying world Florida Rep. Charlie Crist endorses Biden 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 SpeierHouse Democrats eyeing much broader Phase 3 stimulus The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump, Congress agree on coronavirus package? Biden rallygoers offered hand sanitizer amid coronavirus concerns 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.