The agreement on visas may ease some pressure on negotiators, though plenty of thorny issues remain.
House leaders announced a deal Thursday to tighten restrictions on tourists from certain countries who travel to the United States without a visa, in an effort to avoid a possible terrorist attack similar to the one carried out in Paris last month.
The deal alleviates some pressure on negotiators trying to hammer out a sweeping spending deal to fund the government by Dec. 11. Republicans had pushed to include a House-passed bill tightening entry requirements on Syrian refugees, but Democrats countered late Wednesday night with an offer of their own that did not include that bill.
The visa-waiver deal means two of the most contentious issues holding up a government funding agreement could be off the table: Republicans’ offer did not include language targeting Planned Parenthood funding, and now many members and staff can move past the Syrian refugee issue by voting on the visa-waiver program instead.
The visa-waiver bill will be voted on next week, although there is still a chance it could be folded into the omnibus spending bill, which must be passed by Dec.11 to avoid a government shutdown.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats are behind the visa-waiver plan. “I’m hopeful that will be brought up next week and will have all of our support,” she said. “The bill that came together is a bill that has bipartisan agreement and I believe will have the signature of the White House.”
She said she would not favor trying to include it in the omnibus, noting that many members who otherwise support the visa-waiver legislation would be forced to vote against it if it were tied to a controversial funding plan. But she stopped short of saying she would urge her caucus to vote against a package deal.
Of course, several issues are still on the table. Republicans included measures in their first offer that would roll back financial and environmental regulations, although what specific riders they included has not been revealed.
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers has been keeping his cards close to his chest. He was questioned in a Thursday morning meeting of House Republicans about what specifically was in the package, but refused to answer, according to a source in the room. Later Thursday, he told reporters that he and his staff are reviewing Democrats’ counteroffer, but he had little more to say.
“We’ve looked it over,” Rogers said. “All of these things are under consideration. I can’t really characterize anything at this point.”
Pelosi also offered few details on the Democrats’ offer, other than to characterize it as more serious than the GOP’s first salvo. “This is a tea-party policy wish list with an appropriations bill as an addendum to it,” she said. But she added that the Republican plan may just be a short-lived attempt to show conservative members that the leaders understand their policy priorities.
“I always have a spirit of optimism that we will get this done,” Pelosi said. “They have to do what they have to do for certain reasons in their caucus. At some point they will live up to their responsibility to do what we all need to do for the American people.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on the House floor Thursday that it is possible a short-term continuing resolution could be needed to give both chambers more time to wrap up negotiations. But he added that he would bring one up “only if necessary. I’d rather get it done by the 11th.”
“Wrapping up legislative business in December is always unpredictable,” he said. “It’s our intention to get it done in the deadline. If we have to move a few days later, we shall.”
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