WASHINGTON — The House on Friday signaled it might be willing to take up a sweeping social, climate and immigration bill sponsored by a large bipartisan group in the last hours of the fiscal year.
The so-called “omnibus” package, the omnibus bill was approved by a 248-175 vote, with just three Democrats voting for it: Debbie Dingell of Michigan, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
The climactic moment in that debate was a possible late move toward a vote on the immigration bill, which has been in limbo for months as Republicans struggle to pass a federal spending bill that doesn’t include protections for some “Dreamers.”
Republicans and Democrats have been at odds over the Dreamers — and other immigration measures, including a repeal of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — since December. Republican leadership sought to take up that bill last month but moved ahead on another GOP proposal that passed with bipartisan support instead, at least temporarily scrapping a version that did not have the votes needed to pass.
Earlier this week, Speaker Paul Ryan sent lawmakers home for a weeklong recess. If there was no action by Friday, the House’s session would have run out of time before it’s even supposed to adjourn.
In a news conference with some of the author’s of the bill and others earlier in the day, the Trump administration’s legislative affairs director Marc Short said that House leadership “doesn’t want to have this hangover.” He said it was up to lawmakers to decide whether they wanted to work to complete a spending bill.
If the bill were to be considered Thursday, then the immigration measure would be placed in the customs-based system, rather than voted on separately, a senior House GOP leadership aide said, in an effort to address concerns about a rush.
But Democrats showed support for such a move.
“A change in process today would be an important step in the right direction toward making sure there is a vote on the Dream Act this year,” said the sponsor of the Dream Act, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
The minibus includes several other measures that would expand the president’s promises for tighter border security, possibly making a wall between the U.S. and Mexico an eventual reality. They include $1.6 billion in funds for new fencing on the southern border — the final vote on the minibus saw three Republicans voting no. Another $800 million to expand physical barriers and imaging technology in the border area would be included.
The measure funds an expansion of the use of high-tech surveillance systems to help keep tabs on where drugs are coming into the U.S. and how illegal immigrants move across it.
It would also also place additional restrictions on “sanctuary cities” and require local police to communicate more frequently with the federal government about federal immigration matters.
Other provisions would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to use $3.8 billion over five years to hire more doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
Others in the minibus would boost support for federal disaster assistance in California, Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, increase federal energy grants to improve natural gas infrastructure in Puerto Rico and create new penalties for immigrants who fraudulently obtain Social Security numbers through fraudulent claims.
Immigration is one of the items not among those totaling $400 billion in spending that also remain unresolved and under consideration for what must be approved by Friday night.