- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Democrats built support Wednesday for the Homeland Security spending deal, looking to tamp down concerns over border wall money and arguing that another partial government shutdown would be the worst outcome.

The outlines of the final deal were still coming together and text was expected later Wednesday night, leaving lawmakers still guessing at some of the key deals struck by negotiators.

But party leaders were working to tamp down defections ahead of likely votes Thursday, with Democrats in particular making good progress even with liberal lawmakers who’d previously called for massive cuts to President Trump’s “deportation force.”

“I didn’t hear any pushback at all this morning in the caucus,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat. “Overall, it’s a pretty good deal.”

One major factor is that the deal includes not just homeland security money, but funding for dozens of departments and agencies, including a boost in money for the 2020 U.S. Census, a pay raise for federal employees, and a new round of money for NASA.

Also on lawmakers’ minds was the prospect of a second government shutdown in two months, which could ensue if new money isn’t approved by Friday.

“I think it gets us through a perilous moment,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Massachusetts Democrat. “There was nothing but ill will that came of the shutdown, and to exacerbate this again is uncalled for.”

The emerging deal includes $1.375 billion for border barriers, which is less than the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump had demanded but more than the $1 ante House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested last year.

It also appears to give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement broad latitude to detain immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Still to be seen is whether it includes back pay for federal contractors affected by the shutdown and exactly how the deal would address an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders said that in general, the package is a good deal for Republicans, saying they managed to get a good down payment on border funding and that they won flexibility for ICE.

House conservatives were skeptical, though. They demanded a week-long delay in voting to give everyone time to figure out what’s in the legislation, which is likely to run thousands of pages long.

“We believe that members should be given enough time to read it before voting on it, so they can decide whether or not a better deal can be negotiated,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Conservatives also said the $1.375 billion for border barriers is well short of what both they and Mr. Trump want to see.

“The money’s too low for any kind of barrier and it’s, from what I understand, no new construction — it’s all replacement,” said Rep. Ben Cline, Virginia Republican. “That was not even close to what the president asked for, and it’s not what my constituents want in terms of border security.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, another Freedom Caucus member, expressed concern that there would be a reduction in ICE detention beds despite GOP assurances that they would have flexibility there.

A House Democratic aide said the deal provides a “glide path” to reduce the number of detention beds to 40,520 by October — down from the current number of approximately 49,000.

“If that’s the case, since we’re already well above what that average number is, we’re going to have to reduce for the rest of the fiscal year how many people we take, which means that you’re going to be releasing a lot more people into the interior,” said Mr. Biggs, Arizona Republican.

Senate Republican negotiators, though, said there’s enough flexibility for ICE to detain an average of up to 59,000 people a day.

Those numbers left one prominent immigrant-rights group dismayed, and blaming both Democrats and Republicans for furthering Mr. Trump’s “racist” immigration policy.

“This agreement will mean more money for ICE and CBP and more families separated by detention and deportation,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director at United We Dream. “Immigrant youth and our families whose lives are at stake cannot support a bill that gives Trump more cash to execute his racist vision of mass deportation.”

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