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Democrats Boast Budget Leverage, but Are They Bluffing?

As Senate debate drags on, opposition in the House gathers strength

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks with reporters as she leaves the House chamber in the Capitol after holding her 8-hour speech focusing on DACA on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks with reporters as she leaves the House chamber in the Capitol after holding her 8-hour speech focusing on DACA on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats left a caucus meeting just five hours before a government funding deadline Thursday acting like they have the unity needed to block the budget deal, but are they bluffing?

That’s probably the question Speaker Paul D. Ryan is asking himself right now. Or maybe he doesn’t even care.

If Ryan’s assertion, backed by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, that the majority of Republicans will vote for the bill is true, he has no reason not to put the bill on the floor.

House Democrats would almost certainly be blamed for a government shutdown, though they will say in turn that it is Republicans’ fault because they are in the majority.

“This is a crowd that couldn’t run a one-car funeral,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro said of the GOP. “They were unable to do anything that would move us along.”

Watch: Rand Paul Objects to Expedited Vote on Budget Package

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Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants Ryan to commit to holding an immigration vote under a rule known as “queen of the hill” that she argues would be fair to both sides, since multiple bills could get votes and the one with the most support above the simple majority threshold would prevail.

Ryan has shown no signs of relenting, saying he’s been clear he will hold a vote on legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but only if it’s a bill that President Donald Trump supports.

The spending deal in question is one that Pelosi actually likes. It’s relatively generous to Democrats, although some share fiscal conservatives’ complaints about the hundreds of billions in un-offset spending.

Most Senate Democrats are backing it, leaving the House Democrats who aren’t as the primary objectors, aside from conservative Republicans who were never expected to get behind the deal.

House Democrats joining Pelosi in opposition to the measure expressed confidence in their stance. Many others, however, said after the caucus meeting that they weren’t sure how they would vote, and several said they had no comment to share.

DeLauro said she remains undecided, and many other members are also “trying to think it through” based on their perspectives and constituencies.

“I have not a clue,” the Connecticut Democrat said when asked how many Democrats would be willing to support the bill without the DACA commitment.

Only one member who took questions from the press cared to offer a guess about how many Democrats would join Republicans in voting for the bill.

“Much less than 40 Democrats,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield said, noting he’s not on the whip team but has been in the caucus for 14 years and can get a sense of where members are.

The North Carolina Democrat said “our members are overwhelmingly opposed to the budget deal until the final piece of it is put into place,”  referring to the immigration commitment.

If Butterfield’s estimate is accurate, Democrats would almost certainly have the votes to block the spending bill, given the sizable contingent of GOP fiscal hawks who plan to vote against it.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer declined to reveal his whip count, saying he has not shared it with Ryan and does not plan to “at this time.”

“The majority of the caucus feels very strongly that what we are asking for is a very straightforward simple thing,” the Maryland Democrat said.

While the stalemate continues and the Senate debate drags into the night, Hoyer has asked House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to bring a 24-hour continuing resolution to the floor to keep the government open.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has taken a position against the bill without the DACA commitment.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus is 90 to 95 percent opposed, co-chair Raúl M. Grijalva said, but he declined to guess about the level of opposition in the full Democratic caucus.

“The question is for Ryan. He’s 40 or 50 short? Then what’s he going to do? That’s his problem,” the Arizona Democrat said. “And that could be resolved by talking to our leadership.”

Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan said a “clear majority” of Democrats are prepared to vote against the budget deal without concessions from Ryan, but he declined to provide a numerical range to go with that description.

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