Dem leaders bailing out on DACA-budget link again?

Doesn’t this sound a wee bit … familiar? Democrats have an opportunity to use the budget process to twist Republican arms on DACA, again. After last month’s faceplant on a government shutdown, all they managed to get was a commitment for a floor vote in the Senate for various DACA deal proposals, which produced nothing at all.

Thanks to the soon-to-expire continuing resolution that settled the shutdown, Democrats have another opportunity. This time, they’re letting it slide — and their activist constituencies are not happy about it:

While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders had hinged their support for last month’s budget caps deal on a commitment from Republicans to consider legislation salvaging the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, they’ve signaled they won’t hold a similar line heading into next week’s expected vote on an omnibus spending bill.

The apparent change in strategy has angered immigrant rights advocates in and out of Congress, who want the minority Democrats to use their rare leverage on the omnibus government funding package — among the last must-pass bills of the year — to secure protections for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

So what do Democrats want in exchange for their retreat on DACA? Steny Hoyer wants a “clean” omnibus bill, a concept that is perhaps the biggest oxymoron ever floated in politics:

Instead, Democratic leaders want appropriators in both parties to drop all contentious “riders” for the sake of easing passage of the omnibus and preventing a government shutdown ahead of March 23, when funding expires.

“I think that’s probably the best policy for us to do,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip. “It’s also politically the most feasible way to get an omnibus passed.”

Er, omnibus bills almost always have lots of accretions. They just don’t attach them as riders, but instead fold them into the bill itself. For instance, Democrats have raised threats in budget talks if the omnibus doesn’t include spending on a tunnel project in Chuck Schumer’s back yard, although Republicans in the region are also demanding the funds:

Some Republicans have pushed for the bill to include more spending for immigration enforcement. Others want to add a provision that would allow the Trump administration to take funding away from so-called sanctuary cities. Democrats are unlikely to back either proposal.

The Affordable Care Act is also a sticking point. Some Democrats and Republicans want to include provisions to help lower health-care premium costs on Obamacare exchanges.

Conservatives have objected to what they call propping up the law they often criticize. Some Republicans also want to bar subsidies for insurers who cover abortion.

Trump has also reportedly objected to a provision to put $900 million toward a rail tunnel project under the Hudson River. House Republicans in both New Jersey and New York could object to the spending bill if it does not include the funding meant to improve transportation into New York City.

Wouldn’t that be a great message to DACA activists? We’re not going to the mattresses for you, but we’ll shut down the government over $900 million for a train tunnel. Trump will likely accede on this project, though, considering he needs to protect GOP incumbents in the tri-state area, and also because it fits in with his infrastructure messaging.

Why isn’t DACA getting the same treatment? In large part, because it appears to have an indefinite life span after courts have largely kept it in place, pending a rule-making process to end it. The Supreme Court decision this morning cements the fact that DACA will have to get resolved in the political process, not in court. At the moment, the program remains in place, which means the issue is nowhere near as acute as it seemed a few weeks ago.

The can-kicking will continue, just as it always does with immigration issues, and probably will do so well past the midterms. At that point, Pelosi and Hoyer hope they can gain more leverage with control of the House — and they have few reasons to cut a deal until they know whether or not that will be the case. Their activist allies will have to just sit on the sidelines and fume.