UPDATE, 1:56 p.m. ET: Senate leaders announced on Wednesday afternoon that they had reached a two-year budget deal to avert a government shutdown.
“I am pleased to announce that our bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on defense spending and other priorities have yielded a significant agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated.
The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, where it is likely to be met with pushback from Democrats, many of whom are refusing to vote for any package that does not include protections for Dreamers.
Last month, Senate Democrats shut down the government in an effort to secure protections for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. That’s looking less likely this month, as lawmakers eye a budget deal averting a shutdown — one that would boost spending for the military while completely overlooking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
Senate leaders are close to finalizing a two-year budget deal that would both bolster defense spending — something President Trump has pushed for — while also increasing funding for domestic programs, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. A bill passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday night funding the majority of government agencies through March 23 is a non-starter in the Senate due to Democratic opposition, but the Senate proposal appears to have backing from both parties. The deal would boost defense spending, adding another $80 billion to its current $549 billion; non-defense funding would see a $63 billion increase, up from $516 billion. While the proposal would provide two years of funding for the federal community health center program, it reportedly includes no major references to immigration.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) voiced optimism about the deal.
“We’re on the way to getting an agreement and on the way to getting an agreement very soon,” said McConnell. Schumer voiced similar sentiments, saying, “I am very hopeful that we can come to an agreement, an agreement very soon.”
That show of unity is a far cry from last month’s display of defiance. The president ended DACA last September, giving Congress until March 5 to decide the future of the Obama-era directive. But feuding over the issue has left recipients in limbo — in exchange for any DACA protections, Trump has demanded funding for his controversial U.S.-Mexico border wall, in addition to staggering crackdowns on documented immigration and an end to the diversity visa program. Democrats initially rejected those asks, leading to a government shutdown on January 19.
Last month’s scenario initially seemed destined to repeat itself this week. Congress passed a temporary spending bill to reopen the government on January 22, but funding is set to run out on February 8. This week, a flurry of comments from the White House seemed to set up another fight over immigration. On Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly claimed many young undocumented immigrants — or “Dreamers” — were “too lazy to get off their asses” to register for the DACA program. He also asserted that a hardline immigration proposal from the White House was “beyond what anyone could have imagined” with regards to protections for undocumented immigrants, something DACA recipients have strongly refuted.
That same day, Trump himself indicated he was open to shutting down the government again if Democrats failed to capitulate on immigration.
“If we don’t change the legislation, if we don’t get rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill — gang members, and we’re just talking about MS-13, there are many gang members that we don’t mention — if we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown,” Trump told reporters. “It’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.”
“If we don’t straighten out our border, we don’t have a country. Without borders we don’t have a country,” he added. “So would I shut it down over this issue? Yes. I can’t speak for our great representatives here, but I have a feeling they may agree with me.”
White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders later clarified that Trump was not hoping for a shutdown. “The only people that have caused a shutdown are the Democrats,” she said.
Democrats were expected to fight hard for immigration concessions or threaten another shutdown — but that’s looking less and less likely. Schumer told the Washington Post following the last shutdown that Democrats were reluctant to spark another.
“We believe strongly in the Dreamers, but we can’t just let that occupy the whole stage. We have to fight for middle class,” Schumer said, seemingly indicating a binary division between the two groups.
While Democrats may not fight against the new budget deal, some hardliners are still expected to reject the proposal.
“This is a bad, bad, bad, bad — you could say ‘bad’ a hundred times — deal,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a member of the House Freedom Caucus. “When you put it all together, a quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar increase in discretionary spending — not what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), blasted any inclusion of a debt increase, along with funding for areas hit hard by hurricanes and other natural disasters, something the deal is expected to include. “It’d get zero support” from most Freedom Caucus members, Meadows said.
If a budget deal is reached without any protections for DACA recipients, it is unclear when such a compromise might occur. Recipients technically have until March 5 for legal protections and work permits to expire and the White House announced on Tuesday that Trump is not expected to extend the deadline. But the date is largely arbitrary — a January court order requires the administration to continue accepting renewal applications extending DACA status by two years pending an appeal from the White House. In the meantime, Dreamers are still being detained and deported and tens of thousands have already lost their status.