By Leandra Bernstein
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — The two-year budget deal is on track to pass the Senate with bipartisan support and head to the House on Thursday evening where its fate is far less certain.
Only hours before the deadline to pass a budget and prevent another government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans in the House were caught in intra-party feuds. On the right, deficit hawks in the House Freedom Caucus refuse to vote for bill that will blow out the deficit. On the left, there are two factions in the "no" camp, those concerned with the deficit and those who are holding out for a vote on immigration.
Throughout the week, lawmakers argued that neither side wants to shut down the government, but if the House leadership is unable to wrangle 218 members of both parties to accept the Senate deal, a partial government shutdown is almost certain to begin at midnight.
The Senate's massive 652-page bill busts through the congressionally mandated spending caps by $300 billion, adding $165 billion in new defense spending and $131 billion in non-defense over the next two years. The original bill approved by the House earlier this week increased defense spending only, which was a non-starter for Senate Democrats.
The bill represents is a hard-won compromise that includes Republican and Democratic priorities. It funds the children's health care program for the next decade, provides $6 billion to combat the opioid crisis, guarantees $90 billion in disaster relief, funds the National Institutes of Health, provides subsidies to energy companies and raises the debt ceiling through March 2019.
"I’m pleased with the product. I’m not pleased with the process," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, saying she plans to vote against the budget. The reason, she said is Republicans' refusal to guarantee a debate on immigration.
The Democratic leader held the House floor for eight hours on Wednesday trying to extract a commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan to allow a floor debate on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. After the January government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell guaranteed Democrats an open floor debate on DACA to address the uncertain fate of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children who could face deportation if Congress allows DACA to expire on March 5.
Nancy Pelosi says "many of our priorities" are in spending 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." https://t.co/StsSsc3tCu pic.twitter.com/zSlaOhHlbX— ABC News (@ABC) February 8, 2018
"[I] 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," Pelosi said. "This is about one of the easiest decisions the speaker has to make. Let the house work its will."
In a press conference later in the day, Ryan rejected Pelosi's request. Instead, he promised to bring a DACA solution to the floor, but only one that President Donald Trump will support. "We must pass this budget agreement first, though, so that we can get on to that," Ryan said, pressing Pelosi and other Democratic Party holdouts to accept the budget deal.
As of Thursday afternoon, Ryan did not have enough Republican votes to pass the budget on party lines, and the whip count among Democrats remained uncertain with leaders on the left standing firm to their position: no DACA vote, no budget deal.
GOOD LORD, THAT'S A LOT OF MONEY
The budget deal has also produced an unlikely alliance between conservative deficit hawks in the House Freedom Caucus and Democrats concerned thatTrump's policies, particularly the tax cuts, are setting an unsustainable fiscal course.
Virginia Republican Dave Brat described the outcome of the compromise budget: "We're running trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see."
The deficit stood at $666 billion for fiscal year 2017. When combined with the projected $135 billion in lost revenues in 2018 from the GOP tax bill, plus spending on disaster relief, most analysts believe the deficit will exceed $1 trillion. Additionally, the Treasury Department released a new report late last month estimating U.S. borrowing will exceed $955 billion in 2018.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Congressional Budget Office had not yet assessed the impact of the Senate bill.
"It's a debt junky's dream," Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., told Sinclair Broadcast Group. Brooks is a member of the Freedom Caucus, the roughly 40-person group which put out its official position on Wednesday opposing the two-year budget deal.
Official position: HFC opposes the caps deal. We support funding our troops, but growing the size of government by 13 percent is not what the voters sent us here to do.— House Freedom Caucus (@freedomcaucus) February 8, 2018
The agreement, Brooks said, "ultimately puts America in insolvency, bankruptcy and on a path for non-stop trillion-dollar-a-year deficits. It's horrible for our country long-term."
The deficit sky-rocketed above $1 trillion during Barack Obama's first term in office, largely because of the economic stimulus plan and recession. Between 2013 and 2016, the deficit had declined and averaged $546 billion per year.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, among the most liberal members of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he is deeply troubled by the prospect of "deficits spiraling out of control" as a result of the budget plan.
"We're looking at $3 trillion over the next three years, that is extraordinarily destabilizing," he said, pointing to the $1.5 trillion deficit projected over ten years as a result of the GOP tax plan.
Calling the last-minute Senate bill a "grab bag" of subsidies and other sweeteners, Blumenauer charged, "This is not a good way to govern and it's going to have serious consequences going forward."
ENOUGH BLAME TO GO AROUND
If the House falls short of the votes needed to pass the budget, there may still be enough time to ping-pong a short-term spending bill, or continuing resolution (CR), from the House back to the Senate to avoid another government shutdown. In the event that does not happen, lawmakers already know who they are going to blame for the shutdown.
"Trump. Absolutely. Trump and the Republicans," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. "If they don't get the votes here, it will cause a shutdown."
A number of Democrats are on board with Nancy Pelosi and plan to vote against the budget deal unless Speaker Ryan guarantees a full debate on DACA and Dreamers.
The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great. Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2018
After the January government shutdown, many Trump allies took the president's lead and blamed Democrats for the shutdown. Trump at the time accused Democrats of being "far more concerned with Illegal Immigrants" than immediate budget needs. On Thursday, a number of Trump allies on the Hill were confident that the budget, endorsed by Trump, would pass.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., is among the Democrats planning to vote against a budget deal that does not address immigration. With the March 5 deadline for DACA coming up, Gutierrez warned that if Democrats "collude" with Trump and congressional Republicans by voting yes, it will mean deportation for Dreamers.
"If this passes today, the deportation of the Dreamers becomes extremely likely," Gutierrez said. "The only way we stop this is for Democrats to vote no and to not collaborate with Republicans on this budget. If we do, that vote is a vote that's going to lead to the deportation of Dreamers."
Rep. Brat, who opposes the budget deal, said that if the vote results in a government shutdown, the responsibility falls squarely on the Senate.
"Our side does its homework, does 12 [appropriations] bills, does everything on time. The Senate sits on it for 150 days and at the last second under pressure, five CRs in, you come up with this," Brat said.
Earlier in the week, the House passed a budget deal which offset billions of dollars in new Defense Department spending with cuts to the discretionary budget. The plan hit stiff opposition in the Senate where Democrats demanded an equivalent spending increase in domestic, non-defense spending.
"That's pretty frustrating," Brat said of the renegotiated deal which adds $300 billion in new spending. He added that not only is U.S. solvency at stake, but the GOP's reputation. "We're going to be judged on our performance and the Republican party's reputation is fiscal sanity."
TAKE '75 PERCENT OF A LOAF'
Facing splintering opposition groups among both parties, there are a number of leaders on the left and right who are urging their members to take the deal in spite of their reservations.
"If you get 75 percent of a loaf and you're not willing to accept 75 percent of a loaf, nothing's ever going to get done," said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Yarmuth plans to vote for the budget agreement and believes enough Democrats will join him to pass the bill and avert a shutdown. "Everybody has reservations about, but overall, wiht the exception of DACA, it pretty well meets all of our goals for this whole negotiation," he said.
Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York also said he was getting "a lot of favorable input" from Democrats.
"I think it's going to pass today and you're going to have a chunk of R's peel off and a chunk of D's come on," the congressman told reporters.
Collins said he is still "worried sick" about the deficit and understands why GOP deficit hawks are voting against the deal, but believes the budget agreement represents an overall good compromise.
Reverting to the political truism, the congressmen noted, "You can't please all the people all the time. You do the best you can do."