Democrats reject GOP bill to limit Syrian refugees, block Obama EPA rules

Washington: Another congressional spending battle is poised to go down to the wire, with just nine days to go before the government could shut down.


Democrats on Wednesday rejected a spending bill drafted by Republicans, saying the inclusion of over 30 policy provisions including one on Syrian refugees — make the measure a non-starter, according to multiple sources.

Recent spending bill debates have featured down to the wire spats over defunding Planned Parenthood or Obamacare. But House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders are steering clear of those issues, instead pushing this time for national security items, especially after the public’s unease in the wake of last month’s terror attacks in Paris. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday he expected the refugee issue will “likely to be dealt with in some way in the omnibus.”

The GOP draft delivered to Democrats on Tuesday night includes a dozens of policy provisions, but the one taking on the Obama administration over its policy on Syrian refugees and others attempting to roll back EPA rules have attracted the ire of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Last month the House passed legislation requiring that the Secretary of Homeland Security certify that any refugees from Syria and Iraq do not pose a security threat, but with Senate Democrats blocking action on it, the GOP wants to attach it to a spending bill. Republicans point out 47 Democrats voted for the bill, and it passed the House with a veto-proof majority.

Ryan has deliberately kept his distance from the negotiations, but at a meeting with House Democrats on Wednesday morning, Pelosi called the latest version of the bill the “Ryan/McConnell” plan and said Democrats would be delivering a counter offer soon.

“Everything that we thought would have movement or that was still an open question, they just negated. This is similar to what they did on refugees. We were in good faith, we were together and all the rest – and then, they took a turn,” Pelosi said, according to a Democrat in the room.

Top Republicans were non-plussed by Pelosi’s opposition.

“We patiently await their counter-proposal,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Multiple GOP aides say Pelosi is overreacting, and that there have been weeks of talks between Republicans and Democrats on the spending panel over which policy items could be acceptable. But these aides also concede that their leverage is limited because they have to rely on Democrats to pass the bill.

Ryan wants to avoid the perception that he is cooking up some background compromise with Pelosi — something conservatives decried when former Speaker John Boehner turned to Democrats to avoid potential crises.

“The proposal was an Appropriations Committee offer, constructed by the Appropriations Committee. The speaker supported it, but he’s deferring to Chairman (Hal) Rogers,” Ryan’s spokeswoman said.

But despite the new Speaker’s effort to frame the process as totally different now, in the end he will have to weigh in on the final contours of the spending bill.

On Monday,House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy insisted there was not going to be a shutdown and multiple GOP aides and members tell CNN they are not concerned, even though the clock is ticking. They say Pelosi is trying to flex her negotiating muscle, and that Democrats risk appearing tone deaf if they ignore public opinion on security issues.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the top Democrat in the Senate, was upbeat on Tuesday about progress in the talks, noting that the number of riders in the bill had shrunk from 250 to 100. But he also warned that any one of those riders could cause the bill to fail.

“Progress is being made, but there’s no guarantee that these vexatious poison pill riders won’t close the government,” Reid said.