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Budget deal hits turbulence in House from Pelosi, conservatives

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (right) talks to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., while walking towards the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2018. Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

The Senate is poised to quickly pass a bipartisan budget deal Thursday that would avert a government shutdown and suspend the federal debt ceiling, but the bill faces less certain prospects in the House, where the chamber's top Democrat and GOP conservatives are raising objections.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who emphasized her opposition with an unprecedented eight-hour address on the House floor Wednesday, has vowed to reject the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 without a promise of an open immigration debate. And some conservatives, particularly members of the House Freedom Caucus, oppose the deal because it calls for increased domestic spending.

The mood in the House was in stark contrast to the comity in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer delivered laudatory back-to-back speeches on the accord, which would add nearly $300 billion for government programs and suspend the debt ceiling until March 2019.

The bill, released overnight, authorizes the sale of 100 million barrels from the Strategic Oil Reserve to pay for some of the new spending, and raises customs and airport security fees in the next decade. It also renews a host of expired tax breaks for calendar 2017 including for nuclear power and cellulosic biofuel.

The Senate may vote on the deal as soon as 11:30 a.m.

In the House, Pelosi sidestepped questions about whether she was pushing Democrats to vote against the agreement, which would end a months-long impasse on government spending priorities and head off a shutdown on Friday.

"I'm not whipping. I was on the floor all day," Pelosi said after her marathon speech. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat and a ranking member of the Budget Committee, said Democratic leaders were not demanding that members vote down the deal, making its passage more likely.

Although Republicans have a 238 to 193 majority in the House, the Freedom Caucus, which numbers about three dozen Republicans, announced they would oppose the accord.

Lawmakers from both parties will be picking over the agreement with an eye on how it might play in the congressional elections coming in November.

President Donald Trump backed the deal, giving cover to Republicans concerned about adding to the budget deficit in an election year, but House Speaker Paul Ryan still may need some Democratic votes to get it passed.

Ryan was confident on Thursday morning. He told radio host Hugh Hewitt that "I think we will" have the votes to pass the budget bill.

The agreement would raise budget caps on defense and non-defense spending to provide a total of almost $300 billion in additional government funding.

It's filled with long-stalled or long-sought priorities for both sides. Republican defense hawks get more funds for the military, while Democrats get extra money for domestic priorities like combating opioid addiction, the National Institutes of Health budget and community health centers. The agreement also repeals a piece of Obamacare - a Medicare cost-cutting board aimed at ensuring the program's long-term solvency. And it would provide $90 billion in disaster assistance for California, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The measure would temporarily finance the government at current levels through March 23 while lawmakers fill in the details on longer-term spending.

Although Pelosi was part of the bipartisan negotiations that led to the agreement, she said she wants from Ryan what McConnell promised Schumer: an open process for legislation, particularly protections for so-called dreamers, young immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that Trump is ending.

Ryan made no commitments. His spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, reiterated that the speaker would only bring up immigration legislation that the president supports.

It was unclear how many Democrats would support it without such a promise from Ryan, but Rep. Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chairman, estimated that about 50 may be needed to make up for GOP defections and ensure passage.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said a budget deal is unacceptable without protection for the young undocumented immigrants and he wants Pelosi to pressure other Democrats to vote no.

"The deal has everything the Democrats wanted except immigration, because immigration is the glue that holds the Republican Party together," he said.

However, another Democratic lawmaker said some members didn't want Pelosi to make a stand on immigration after the party took a political hit over forcing last month's three-day shutdown. The lawmaker asked for anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said the fight to keep the government funded shouldn't turn on immigration.

"I support getting DACA done too but people should vote for it based what's in the deal not what's not in the deal," he said. "The pragmatic members of both conferences should support this."

Pelosi's hard line reflects a mix of the political and parochial. Her state of California has an outsize share of DACA recipients, more than 200,000, and a Democratic-leaning electorate that strongly favors protections for them. And Pelosi, whose future as House Democratic leader is perennially debated given her unusually long 15-year reign, is facing pressure from members and activists who demand she extract a DACA solution before acceding to higher military spending, which they view as their leverage over Republicans.

Pelosi's efforts were backed by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, although he didn't threaten to hold up passage of a budget deal in the Senate over the dispute in the House.

"I support all of Nancy's efforts, and I hope that Speaker Ryan will rise to the same level of bipartisanship that Mitch McConnell did by offering us this floor procedure," he said.

The alternative is to continue funding the government in short-term increments.

"I think in the end it's the only game in town," said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican.

Author information: Bloomberg's Laura Litvan and Arit John contributed.

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