A bipartisan budget deal announced in the Senate Wednesday afternoon is already facing an internal Democratic rebellion.
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the floor to announce a massive deal that would boost domestic and defense spending, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was entering her third hour on the House floor expressing opposition, to the delight of liberal activists and lawmakers.
Progressives are frustrated that Senate Democrats cut a budget deal while relief for the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers remains in limbo — and with nothing more than a commitment from McConnell to begin an open-ended immigration debate next week.
Pelosi sought to align herself with her party’s base on Wednesday, launching into a rare extended floor speech in the morning and declaring that she would oppose a spending agreement without a commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for a floor debate on Dreamers.
“I just can’t explain to the Dreamers or my colleagues why we should be second-class members of Congress in this House without a commitment from the Speaker that Mitch McConnell gave to the senators — that there would be a vote on the floor to let Congress work its will,” Pelosi said.
House Republicans are almost certain to need Democratic votes to pass the sweeping agreement, giving Pelosi significant leverage to force some kind of concession from House GOP leaders on stalled immigration talks.
The budget deal increases defense spending this year by $80 billion and domestic spending by $63 billion above strict budget caps, according to a summary of the deal obtained by POLITICO. Next year, defense spending will increase by $85 billion and domestic funding will be boosted by $68 billion beyond the caps. The deal also includes $140 billion for defense and $20 billion for domestic in emergency spending.
The fact that Pelosi is taking a stand on the floor — and has continued to speak an extended period of time — shows just how sensitive the issue is in her caucus.
Lawmakers in the “Quad Caucus” — the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus — were also planning to put out a statement Wednesday opposing any budget deal without progress on Dreamers. The four groups make up a significant portion of the 193-member Democratic Caucus and at least some of their votes are likely critical to passing the budget deal in the House.
Pelosi began her stand of the House floor Wednesday morning as a strategy to extract from Ryan the same kind of commitment that McConnell gave Schumer: a vow to call up immigration legislation under terms that can yield a bipartisan accord.
Ryan has said he would bring up a Dreamers’ deal if President Donald Trump signs off on it. “We’ve been very clear about this,” Ryan said at a press conference earlier this week. “We will take a bill that the president supports.”
But that suggestion of future action isn’t enough for many pro-Dreamer activists who have constantly hit the Hill to win support for their cause.
“A potential promise for a vote, that falls short,” Avideh Moussavian, senior policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said in an interview. Immigrant-rights groups have already heard similar promises that ended with no action, she added.
For months, Pelosi and Schumer have been refusing to negotiate on a budget caps deal until there was an agreement with Republicans to shield Dreamers from deportation. Pelosi has repeatedly told her caucus their leverage to force Republicans into an immigration solution stems from withholding support for a long-term budget agreement.
So as Senate leaders looked on the cusp of a spending caps deal on Tuesday, House Democrats started to rebel. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most outspoken members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, went to the House Speaker’s Lobby to scorch Democratic leadership in remarks to reporters.
“I think they caved,” Gutierrez said of Senate Democrats. “I think we are here because they walked away” during last month’s government shutdown fight, adding that they “melted like a candle in the heat.”
Other members voiced their opposition to leadership behind closed doors, including in a House Democratic leadership meeting Wednesday morning.
Democrats had already decided to move their annual retreat — scheduled to start Wednesday — from Cambridge, Md., to the Capitol as caucus resistance to a budget deal intensified.
Liberal advocacy groups also began speaking up against any move to hike budget caps without a firmer plan to shield Dreamers, who could lose deportation protections next month.
“Leverage is not something you can say you have — you have to show up, and we’ve seen that Democrats, especially in the Senate, have not been willing to use that leverage,” said Angel Padilla, policy director for the progressive group Indivisible.
If successful, the agreement to raise budget caps would constitute a win for both parties, giving Democrats a boost to domestic programs while handing Republicans a long-sought hike in Pentagon spending.
Centrist and politically vulnerable Democrats who wanted to avoid another shutdown fight over immigration may also be pleased with the Senate’s deal. Among the budget agreement’s multiple victories for red- and purple-state Democrats are new opioids funding and a way forward on a pensions fix.
But the left is still frustrated that Democrats would assent to a key GOP priority without any clarity from Ryan that he would take up a Senate-passed immigration bill.
Ben Wikler, Washington director for MoveOn.org, said any Senate move to take up higher defense spending before an immigration deal would be like “trying to move a boulder with your pinky instead of a lever.”
“Democrats and Republicans who are committed to passing Dreamers relief shouldn’t vote for a caps deal that makes protections for Dreamers far less likely,” he said.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.