The $1.7 trillion spending package to fund the government is on the ropes as GOP Senator Mike Lee of Utah pushes for more control at the US southern border. At the 11th hour, the Republican holdout called for an amendment that ties funding for the Department of Homeland Security to keeping the immigration and health measure Title 42 in place. Despite receiving a stay until after Christmas courtesy of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the pandemic-era control is set to expire, and with it, one of the most significant remaining border protections.
With Congress closing for the year tomorrow, Dec. 23, lawmakers are keen to get spending settled before a government shutdown. Lee’s amendment is the final sticking point and one that could be easily dealt with if it were not for Democrat leadership’s fears of not being able to rely on their own party to toe the line.
How Many Title 42 Votes?
Democrats have offered Lee a vote in the amendment, but with a 60-vote threshold. Lee and others are calling for that to be just 51 votes – a straight majority. The Utah senator summed up the situation: “After getting literally everything they want in this 4,155-page monstrosity, the Democrats won’t give us an up-or-down vote on an amendment to preserve Title 42. Why? Because it will pass, and that terrifies them because they want chaos on the border,” Lee wrote.
What he appears to mean is that there are a small number of Democrats who have called for Title 42 to stay in place, citing the expected 15,000 plus border crossings that will occur daily when it is lifted. Should the amendment get a simple majority vote, it is likely it would pass, thus causing a “poison pill” scenario in the lower chamber.
Kill the Bill?
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) insisted that her lawmakers are “working on a path” that would hopefully “get things done in the Senate as soon as possible.” “We have to have an omnibus. That’s essential,” Stabenow said, stressing that Lee’s amendment would make “it difficult to pass the omnibus in the House.”
A good number of House Democrats appear keen to maintain Title 42 and would therefore back the language of the bill. This, however, would almost certainly enrage the large liberal caucus who may then revolt and kill the entire package. Dem leadership could, of course, try and pass the bill in the House first, but with just a day to go, such a move seems highly unlikely.
Plan B: Paging Mitch McConnell
Above all the debate and negotiation hovers the specter of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky lawmaker has intimated that if the omnibus is not resolved by Thursday, Dec. 22, a continuing resolution might be on the cards. This was more bluntly stated by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who said on Wednesday, “If we don’t get an omnibus passed by tomorrow, then Senator McConnell has said he’s for a [continuing resolution] into next year, so it looks like we’re on a path to a CR.”
For many Republicans, a CR appears infinitely more preferable to the omnibus that would lock them into certain spendings for the next congressional year. As the party awaits majority status come January 3, GOP lawmakers would rather not have their hands tied by the soon-to-be former Congress.
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