There is a bipartisan deal. And that is a very big deal.
The deal proposed by Senate leaders would lock in a two-year agreement on spending numbers, essentially taking shutdowns threats and continuing resolutions off the table for the time being. It would provide long overdue disaster relief funding to hurricane-ravaged Texas, Florida and, most urgently, Puerto Rico. Congress has been lurching from spending crisis to spending crisis for seemingly months. Should the House and Senate pass this, it in large part clears the decks.
But there are still major steps that need to be taken, so expect an exciting next 24 hours.
How this will all work
- The Senate still plans to vote on a standalone defense funding bill Thursday. They will get onto the bill, but the vote to proceed will fail.
- Then senators take up the House-passed continuing resolution. The preliminary vote on that will be Thursday, at which point they’ll strip the House language, and replace it with the Senate language.
- Then they’ll vote on that and kick it back to the House.
- Expect the House to vote on the measure to prevent a shutdown Thursday evening.
Will there be a shutdown?
It certainly doesn’t look like it. There are still several steps to go, and things can still going wrong/the votes may not appear. But aides in both parties, and in both chambers, tell me things are on track.
The Senate and House will both vote on Thursday.
What we know about what’s in the deal
- Short-term funding bill to March 23
- Agreement to increase the budget caps – and significantly increase spending – by roughly $300 billion over the next two years, split between defense and non-defense domestic spending ($80 billion or so per year on the defense side, $64 billion or so per year on non-defense)
- Disaster relief package
- Raise the debt ceiling to a level that puts it beyond the midterm election – the specifics of this still appear up in the air, but Senate leaders expect a deal of around a year, or having the limit raised until March 2019.
- Funds community health centers for two years and includes several other health care extenders and spending provisions.
Some perspective on this: The first CNN heard that negotiators were going to take a serious run at this was Sunday, but even then senior aides were skeptical they could get there. It is, after all, a very large deal to put together from a technical standpoint, combined with the fact these types of talks historically collapse under the weight of the sheer scope of the various pieces.
Yet three days later they are on the brink of it.
Crazy to think about: The era of fiscal responsibility as a driving force behind any budget agreement has all but fallen by the wayside. This does away with not just the sequester, but also rolls back the limits imposed by the Budget Control Act. And there are no significant commiserate spending cuts in sight. That’s quite a thing for anyone who has covered the spending wars of the Obama administration.
What we still don’t know: House Democrats
According to several sources involved, the votes will be there for this in the House, but that doesn’t mean Democrats – who will have to provide a significant number of “yes” votes due to pockets of GOP opposition to the spending increases – will be happy about it. Unlike their Senate colleagues, House Democrats remained steadfast that no caps deal should be reached until a DACA resolution was in sight. A DACA resolution very clearly is not in sight. That’s a problem for many.
Reality check: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced on the House floor she was against the plan but her team has been very involved in these negotiations and they wouldn’t be at this point if she wasn’t. How many House Democrats will support this is still up in the air – several are very angry this was agreed to – but enough should be there to get it across the finish line. Remember – this includes major Democratic priorities as well.
Is this locked in yet: No. The loss of leverage for Democrats is real here. Expect several heated closed-door Democratic caucus meetings in both chambers in the next 24 hours.
But remember: There is still a vote on the omnibus – the vehicle that will officially lock in the spending deal, which will need to be written by appropriators and then voted on by March 23. Several Democratic aides have pointed to that as a degree of leverage on DACA if there is a need for it.
So why would Democrats sign onto this: It’s a question you’re going to hear repeatedly – and loudly – from immigration advocates on and off the Hill in the next few days. The bottom line is this has an awful lot for Democrats to like, but perhaps more importantly, is extremely consequential for Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s caucus.
For Senate Democrats up for re-election in Trump states – there are 10 – a major bipartisan agreement they can tout that funds major priorities is a very big deal. Will it upset immigration advocates? No question. Outrage them even. But the calculation was made in the last two weeks that a deal – just getting something done – was better than no deal.
What does this mean for DACA?
It’s unquestionably a roll of the dice for Democrats. Defense spending was the key piece of leverage. Senate Democrats have grown more comfortable with McConnell’s approach to the issue – a floor debate that won’t be tilted in any one direction. But that answers zero questions in the House, where House Speaker Paul Ryan has noted nothing will move on the DACA front without Trump’s sign-off, no matter what the Senate does.
House Democrats are still pushing for a commitment from the Speaker to take up specific pieces of DACA legislation in order to unlock their votes. But at the moment, it’s not clear that will have any effect. Which means the pathway to a DACA resolution is still very, very unclear.
What about the President’s comments?
For a solid hour or so Tuesday, negotiators working on this deal were holding their collective breath – President Donald Trump calling for a shutdown if border security wasn’t addressed was, as one Republican aide working on the deal put it to me in a text: “Certainly not ideal!”
Keep in mind Republicans are on the verge of accomplishing something they’ve been pushing for months to get: a separation of the budget talks from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program issue. And here was the President … bringing immigration back into those talks?
Needless to say, Republicans aides were nervous, for a least a brief period, that it would spook their Democratic counterparts. That hasn’t happened – Democrats have largely ignored it, save for the rolling of the eyes.
But CNN has been told to expect to hear a lot about it from a messaging perspective from Democrats frustrated with the budget deal in the next 48 hours.
This story has been updated and will continue to be updated with new developments.