Democrats looking to quickly pass a $1.7 trillion spending bill stumbled Wednesday night as the fight over whether to ease immigration rules spilled out onto the Senate floor.
Republicans and Democrats had been negotiating a trade-off that allowed some votes on amendments to the huge spending bill, in return for GOP agreement to allow an earlier vote on the bill.
One of those amendments was proposed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to maintain the Title 42 policy under which millions of immigrants have been turned away at the border to limit the spread of COVID-19. That policy is expected to be phased out any day now, which has Republicans, border states and others worried that the immigration crisis could become even worse.
Late Wednesday, Senate Republicans accused Democrats of refusing to allow a vote on Lee’s amendment and allowing it to be attached with a simple-majority vote. Lee said he thinks Democrats are worried it would pass under those conditions.
“Title 42 authority is the only thing standing between us and absolute pandemonium on the border,” Lee told Fox News. “The Democrats won’t let us do it. Why? Because they’re afraid it might pass.”
“It is outrageous that Senate Democrats are refusing to allow a vote on @SenMikeLee amendment to extend Title 42 expulsion authority,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Republican said he supports the omnibus spending bill, “but not at all costs.”
“If the omnibus – which dramatically increases military spending and funds the government – fails because Democrats care more about letting Title 42 lapse than funding the federal government, so be it,” he tweeted. “If this bill fails because Senator Lee was not allowed a vote on extending Title 42, it will be one of the lowest points in the history of the United States Senate.”
This fight forced Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to acknowledge the votes aren’t there yet to pass the bill.
“We’re still working on an agreement to vote on amendments and pass the omnibus tonight. We aren’t there yet, we’re making progress,” Schumer said.
He also said without an agreement, he would abandon the idea of a faster vote in return for amendments and set up a vote by Friday. That’s much later than Democrats hoped to have the bill out of the Senate, in part because of worries about an approaching winter storm that has lawmakers eager to return home.
While some senators said a deal could still be salvaged, the path forward was unclear late Wednesday night.
If the deal blows up, it could prompt lawmakers to quickly pass a short-term spending bill for a few weeks, which is what House Republicans in particular have been pushing for. House GOP lawmakers say they’ll have more leverage to shape a spending bill the way they want next year, when they take control of the House.
That path could put in jeopardy some of the proposals in the large $1.7 trillion bill, including nearly $45 billion for Ukraine, new funding for disaster relief, larger budgets for defense supported by Republicans and larger budgets for non-defense items supported by Democrat.