Today on the Hill: Decision Day on Landmark Budget Deal

February 8, 2018

The Senate is expected to vote early this afternoon on a massive bipartisan budget deal that would avert a government shutdown, suspend the debt ceiling, raise strict budget caps, and offer billions in funding for health care, disaster relief, infrastructure, child care, and education. The text of the deal hatched by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was released last night, outlining a $300 billion spending package that would break a months-long stalemate that has plagued the appropriations process. If approved, the deal could result in an omnibus finally being passed in March.

With respect to process, the Senate will convene at 10:30am today and resume consideration of a House-passed defense-only appropriations bill (H.R. 695) — this is separate from the bipartisan budget deal. An 11:30am cloture vote on that bill, which is expected to fail, is ostensibly designed to demonstrate to Republicans that there is not enough support in the upper chamber to clear the 60-vote threshold on a defense-only spending measure. Then at 12:30pm, senators will meet privately over lunch, and are expected to return shortly thereafter to unanimously vitiate cloture on the bipartisan budget deal that would otherwise push consideration of the bill to Friday. If the bill passes as planned, the measure will then go to the House, where Republicans have authorized has same day authority (martial law) to consider the measure in an expedited fashion.

While the Senate is expected to act quickly to approve the measure, the bill faces less certain prospects in the House, where the chamber’s top Democrat and GOP conservatives are raising objections. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who emphasized her opposition with an unprecedented eight-hour address on the House floor Wednesday, has vowed to reject the deal without a promise of an open immigration debate in the House. And some conservatives, particularly members of the House Freedom Caucus, oppose the deal because it calls for increased domestic spending.

While hardliners in both parties in the House are expected to cast votes against the budget deal, pragmatic lawmakers on each side will be under immense pressure to back the package once approved by the Senate. Although Minority Leader Pelosi has taken a strong stand against the measure, other Democrats have been wary of risking another political hit after their advantage on the generic congressional ballot shrunk considerably during the previous shutdown. Thus, while political hurdles still exist, the most likely scenario involves the budget deal being enacted before tonight’s midnight deadline to fund the government.