Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Thursday morning that he’s reached an agreement with colleagues on amendments to the 4,155-page omnibus so the Senate can pass the bill later in the day and give the House a chance to act Friday.
And it looks like his savior may be independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who on Thursday introduced an amendment to increase border funding and resources for border communities and extend the Title 42 health policy that expedites the deportation of migrants seeking asylum in the United States.
Sinema’s amendment could give political cover to centrist Democrats to vote against a proposal sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to cut funding for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s office unless the Biden administration reinstates the Trump-era Title 42 policy.
Democrats say Lee’s amendment would sink the omnibus in the House if it passes the Senate.
Schumer said on the floor that senators and staff had worked until 2 a.m. to work out a deal on amendments but failed to reach one.
Then, just before 10 a.m., Schumer announced a deal with Republicans to vote on a block of 15 amendments, giving the Senate a chance to pass the $1.7 trillion omnibus later in the day.
That would give the House a chance to vote Friday to send the legislation to President Biden’s desk.
“We have an agreement now. We will vote on all of the amendments in order and then vote on final passage. It’s taken a while, but it is worth it and I appreciate the cooperation of everyone here,” Schumer announced on the floor.
The block of amendments he announced includes Lee’s proposal and Sinema’s side-by-side amendment, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
The massive spending bill stalled Wednesday evening when Lee insisted on getting a vote on his amendment. Republicans argue Title 42 is holding back a deluge of migrants from Venezuela and other countries at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to end Title 42.
Democrats suffered a setback when the parliamentarian ruled that Lee’s amendment is germane to the year-end spending bill, which means it could be attached with only 51 votes or a simple majority.
Republicans think that Sinema and centrist Democrats up for reelection, such as Tester and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), will be under heavy pressure to vote for Lee’s amendment, which could give it the simple majority it needs to pass.
But with Sinema’s side-by-side amendment, she, Tester, Manchin and other centrist Democrats, such as Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), can vote for it instead of the Lee proposal and fend off Republican attacks that they don’t take the situation at the border seriously.
Sinema’s intervention to break the Title 42 stalemate, which threatened to derail the entire omnibus, is an indication she could continue to play the role of Senate dealmaker after leaving the Democratic Party earlier this month.
Congress needs to pass legislation to fund the federal government before funding runs out at the end of Friday.
A group of conservative Republicans led by Lee and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) have called for a stop-gap spending measure lasting until early 2023 to allow the incoming House GOP majority to renegotiate the spending package, which is packed with Democratic priorities but also a big increase in defense spending — a top GOP priority.
Sinema’s amendment would need to be allowed a simple-majority vote threshold to have a chance of passing. If the parliamentarian rules it needs 60 votes to be attached to the omnibus, it will likely fall away.
Sinema’s proposal would boost border security funding, increase resources for border communities and extend Title 42 until what she calls “a proper plan” to address the flood of migrants is in place.
“This year’s historic levels of border crossings at our Southern border makes clear the status quo is not working. Our amendment boosts funding for border security, increases resources for border communities and extends Title 42 until a proper plan to manage the crisis at our border is in place,” Sinema said in statement.
Sinema’s proposal would provide $85 million for immigration judges to speed asylum claims, $80 million for U.S. attorneys to prosecute border crimes and $140 million for increased detention capacity to hold smugglers and other criminals.
It would also provide $100 million for increased drug enforcement at the border, $200 million to fill gaps in the border wall and $1 billion to increase U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention capacity, among other priorities.
—Updated at 10:50 a.m.