WASHINGTON ― As of Wednesday night, the spending deal to avoid another government shutdown still hadn’t been finalized, but House Democrats were more than ready to pass the legislation and declare victory as soon as Thursday ― even if the actual agreement is less of a win than they claim.
Lawmakers expect to release text late on Wednesday of a deal that would provide money until October for the same government agencies that were shut down in parts of December and January. Without the new deal, those agencies would close down again on Saturday, and for many lawmakers, avoiding another shutdown is reason enough to vote for the bill.
But Republican and Democratic leaders are also going around to their members and selling the agreement as a win for their side when the truth is a bit more drawish.
No, President Donald Trump does not get money for a concrete wall ― or even as much money as Senate appropriators were discussing in the spring for physical barriers ― but the deal does include $1.375 billion for “bollard fencing.” If you don’t know what bollard fencing is, it sort of looks like a massive steel wall.
Democrats will be able to tout that the bill explicitly blocks Trump from using that fencing in certain areas, and that Trump can only use wall designs that are currently in use, and that Trump only gets 55 miles of new fencing. But Democrats are coming off of their position that $0 ought to go to a physical barrier.
Trump will get to stand in front of the new fencing and point to it as his wall, and he’ll still be able to declare a national emergency and try to raid other accounts for more wall money. There are no policy riders in the bill blocking Trump from that gambit, though such a move will almost certainly get tied up in the courts.
Regardless of who’s actually winning on the policy, Democrats are almost certainly winning on the politics.
One of the most complicated issues in the deal is the number of detention beds at the border. If you listen to Democrats, the deal will reduce the number of detention beds to 40,520, which is the number Congress previously agreed to. But, if you talk to Republicans, the legislation actually removes the cap and funds an average of 45,274 beds, according to Vox. A senior Democratic aide told HuffPost that there are currently 49,057 beds in use, so even though lawmakers are funding more than what they previously authorized, that’s just to provide for a “glide path” to get to the mandated limit.
The truth is, we might not know exactly what these provisions do until we see the legislative text ― and even then, the Trump administration could find a way to work around the law. Either way, they’re still a far cry from the policies of those who want to “abolish ICE” or dramatically curb the United States’ immigrant detention policies.
There’s also a grab bag of other items that didn’t go Democrats’ way. The legislation won’t include back pay for federal contractors who were shut out of their job for 35 days during the last shutdown. The bill won’t restrain the Trump administration’s “Mexico City Policy,” sometimes referred to as the “Global Gag Rule,” which blocks funding for NGOs offering abortion services or counseling. And, in the words of one senior Republican aide, it maintains a number of other “pro-life provisions” that Democrats looked to address.
On the other hand, Democrats point out that the legislation delivers a 1.9 percent pay raise to federal workers, increases the current spending for the census by a $1 billion, and provides $17 billion for new infrastructure projects.
But regardless of who’s actually winning on the policy, Democrats are almost certainly winning on the politics.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday that the “overwhelming majority” of Democrats would support the deal, which seemed to square with what progressives said as well. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), one of the most liberal voices in Congress, told HuffPost he was “inclined to be supportive” and predicted that only “a handful” of Democrats would vote no.
Another California progressive, Rep. Jared Huffman, also predicted a small number of defections and said he was “probably a yes.”
While Huffman expressed concern about a few provisions and Democrats muddying their moral argument against walls ― “There’s a small amount of mud that I will concede” ― he said he thought this was overall a pretty good deal.
“I don’t know that anybody should be claiming this as a victory, certainly not a complete victory, but I think there is a recognition that you can’t fight every battle as your last one,” he said.
And plenty of other progressive Democrats seemed to be on the same page Wednesday. The only Democrat HuffPost talked to who seemed to be leaning no ― though said she was still undecided ― was Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). The freshman congresswoman said she was particularly concerned about accountability and oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.
But if Democratic leaders can contain their defections to single digits, it will certainly seem like Democrats won this deal, particularly if a significant number of Republicans also defect from their leaders and vote no.
I don’t know that anybody should be claiming this as a victory, certainly not a complete victory, but I think there is a recognition that you can’t fight every battle as your last one. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
While only a handful of Democrats look poised to break ranks, dozens of Republicans seem prepared to do so, even with Trump supporting the bill.
If Trump started trashing the deal ― or just sounding more tepid than he already does ― Republicans defections could multiply. Suddenly, this bipartisan deal could look like a huge win for Democrats and a big loss for Republicans, just by virtue of a nearly united Democratic caucus voting for the bill and Republicans splitting off.
Most members of the Freedom Caucus already sounded uncomfortable with the legislation before its release, and there are even members recycling the old complaint that there won’t be enough time to “Read The Bill” before they vote on it.
“Why don’t we do a one-week [continuing resolution] so we can all read it and know what’s in it, fund the government, and make an informed vote? That would be fabulous,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told HuffPost Wednesday.
But, as long as Trump continues to say positive ― or, at least, not negative ― things about the agreement, the bill should sail through both chambers with large majorities. The House and the Senate could both vote on the measure as soon as Thursday, and even if more Democrats turn sour on the bill, there should be plenty of support from both parties to not make anyone sweat another shutdown.
Asked about the prospect of the furthest left members and the furthest right members voting against the spending deal, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said, “Hopefully the sane ones will get it through.”