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Schumer Agrees to Give up Shutdown Fights for Two Years, in Deal That Would Deprive Senate Democrats of Power

Thursday, February 08, 2018 By Sam Knight, The District Sentinel | News Analysis
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer make their way to the Senate floor after announcing a two-year deal on the budget earlier in the day on February 7, 2018. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer make their way to the Senate floor after announcing a two-year deal on the budget earlier in the day on February 7, 2018. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats look poised to relinquish significant leverage -- the threat of withholding government funding -- well into the next Congress.

Leaders from the Senate Majority and Minority said Wednesday that they agreed to a budget deal that would roll back short-term funding norms spearheaded by Congressional Republicans during the Obama administration.

The agreement would eliminate so-called sequestration caps created by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The spending limits were agreed to by Congress after Tea Party Republicans threatened to shutdown the government.

The compromise would hike spending on defense and domestic programs by $300 billion, and it would keep the government funded through October 2019.

"After months of legislative logjams, this budget deal is a genuine breakthrough," said Chuck Schumer (D-NY) from the Senate floor. "After months of fiscal brinkmanship, this budget deal is the real first sprout of bipartisanship, and it should break the long cycle of spending crises that have snarled this Congress and hampered the middle class."

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also hailed the agreement. Speaking just before Schumer, he said: "For the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe."

The Pentagon, which received $700 billion this year, would see funding increase by $169 billion.

According to Schumer, the deal would boost spending on healthcare programs, infrastructure and higher education. The agreement would bolster community healthcare grants, while extending funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by four years until 2027.

It would also deprive Senate Democrats of a tool they could use to stymie the Trump administration, which has been plagued by repeated accusations of Executive Branch abuses, including unprecedented nepotism and conflicts of interest, and obstruction of justice in the FBI inquiry into alleged election meddling in 2016. Republicans have the majority in both houses of Congress, but need Senate Democrats to guarantee that budget legislation won't be filibustered.

Schumer said the deal was hammered out "without a great deal of help from the White House," but Presidential aides praised the development. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it would offer "certainty" and a "much needed" boost in defense spending.

The House might have other plans, however. Influential hardline conservatives look set to oppose the agreement. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the Freedom Caucus, came out early against the proposal, according to NBC News.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also said that she won't back the deal, according to The Hill.

Pelosi repeated demands for a government funding agreement that includes consideration of Dreamers -- 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. The cohort had been granted protections from removal proceedings under the Obama administration. Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program would expire in March

In his floor speech on Wednesday, McConnell said that the Senate would soon have an open debate on immigration legislation. He said there would be a "level playing field at the outset," and that the Majority and Minority would "alternate proposals for consideration and for votes." According to Reuters, the debate is expected to occur next week.

Before backing the Senate deal, Pelosi is asking House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to schedule similar deliberations.

"Without a commitment from Speaker Ryan, comparable to the commitment from Leader McConnell, this package does not have my support," she said on Wednesday.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sam Knight

Sam Knight is a reporter, editor and cofounder of The District Sentinel, a news co-op reporting on Washington and federal policy for the left.