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Immigration Deal Tangled Up in Spending Talks

Negotiations over DACA threaten a long-term spending deal

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaks with reporters in the Senate subway after the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaks with reporters in the Senate subway after the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The program that oversees certain immigrants brought illegally to the country as children continues to complicate discussions on government spending.

Democratic senators are insisting a vote on legislation to address the pending expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program occur either before or as part of a fiscal 2018 spending bill.

But the two sides appear nowhere close to a deal on an immigration measure as the deadline for the current funding mechanism fast approaches. The continuing resolution to fund the government expires after Jan. 19.

“We intend to be reasonable, but we don’t intend to abandon our priorities just as our Republican friends don’t want to abandon theirs,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told reporters Thursday.

Watch: Welcome Back, Now Hurry — Congress’ Top Priorities for January

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Republican members say the demands from Democrats on immigration appear more firm that during the December discussions on government spending. Despite that, GOP lawmakers continue to operate under the assumption that Congress has until March 5 to address the end of DACA, the deadline Trump set when he opted to terminate the program on a delay last year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will bring a bill to the floor as soon as a bipartisan agreement is reached.

With the January deadline approaching, several Republican and Democratic aides anticipate another CR will be necessary. That could give appropriators in both chambers time to write the new spending bills should a budget agreement be reached and members reach a compromise on an immigration bill.

“We generally believe it will probably be a short-term deal and we’ll have to look at the next deal,” Alabama GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby said.

Negotiations between congressional leaders on new spending caps are ongoing, but the two sides on Thursday did not appear any closer to a compromise after a meeting the previous day.

Democrats continue to demand parity between defense and nondefense spending, while Republicans are pushing for higher defense spending. Sources on and off the Hill also say the GOP is seeking offsets for any increase in nondefense funding.

“Any agreement must provide our armed forces with the resources they need to fulfill their missions. That means setting aside the misguided notion that new defense spending needs to be matched dollar for dollar by new nondefense spending,” McConnell said on the chamber floor on Thursday.

The two sides are also still divided on what border security measures to include as part of a DACA package. After a meeting on immigration with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, Republican senators said more work must be done before a deal is reached.

“Our discussions on border security and enforcement with Democrats are much further apart, and that is key to getting a bipartisan deal on DACA. Until that happens, we cannot accomplish the solutions our country needs and many families deserve,” Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Thom Tillis of North Carolina said in a statement.

Republicans expect to provide their Democratic colleagues with the contours of a deal next week

Trump will host a bipartisan group of lawmakers next week to discuss DACA, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.

Democrats have leverage in the Senate on negotiations over the spending bill. Advancing a funding measure requires 60 votes and Republicans only hold 51 seats.

“Democrats want a spending bill as we do, but they also have some different priorities than we do,” Shelby said. “To get Democrats on board, it’s going to have to be a big package and be something for everybody.”

And for Democrats, the package must include some sort of immigration bill.

“Whether it’s done with the spending bill or done in advance of the spending bill, but it has to be done before the spending bill is taken up,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said. “It’s not something where we’ll deal with all the other stuff and deal with DACA later.”

John T. Bennett and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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