Politics

Congress set to vote Thursday on budget bill: What to watch

Deal would keep government open

Senate agrees on budget deal

WASHINGTON (CNN) - There's a deal. There's a deadline. Now they just need the votes.

The Senate vote on a massive two-year budget deal that also keeps the government open and hikes the debt ceiling is in good shape, aides say. As it currently stands, the votes in the House for the budget agreement are not locked in, according to several sources working on the whip process. But there is general confidence they'll get there. Keep a close eye on House Democrats all day -- many want to vote for the deal, but also grasp the immigration dynamics and enthusiasm. It's a tough spot.

Bottom line: Pay more attention to the number of lawmakers who haven't said anything, as opposed to those who have been out railing on the deal. The former is a much larger group and, aides say, serves as a good indication of who will end up in the "yes" column.

Will there be a shutdown: Very unlikely in the end, but expect some drama before it's all said and done.

The risk: Until the votes are locked in, there's always a chance something could set the caucus off (like, say, a wayward tweet?) and send things cascading in a direction that could lead to a shutdown.

Where things were last night

Per CNN's Tal Kopan, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is officially a "no" on the budget deal, and her sources were telling her Democratic leadership doesn't think Speaker Paul Ryan has the votes.

On the Republican side, the House Freedom Caucus took an official position against the bill and I'm told another two dozen or so lawmakers are likely with them in that camp.

Republican leaders did their first hard whip check during the evening House vote.

Here are two key points to remember:

1. CNN reporters have been told there is a going to be a bigger House Republican vote in favor of this than initially suspected. President Donald Trump's support and the defense spending are having a real effect.

2. Behind the scenes, there won't be uncertainty on where the Democratic votes are when it's time to count them -- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has a good relationship with the Republican whip team and will tell them exactly what Democrats are willing to give in terms of votes. That's very valuable given the compressed timetable and fluid vote counts.

What House Democrats want

A commitment from Ryan to hold a similar floor process to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has committed to across the Capitol.

What House Democrats won't get: A commitment from Ryan to hold a similar floor process to what McConnell has committed to across the Capitol. Ryan's baseline has never changed -- he'll take up a deal to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program when he knows what Trump supports.

The key question: Is the Democratic caucus willing to sink a budget deal Leader Nancy Pelosi's team was integral to negotiating, and contains a wide array of big Democratic wins, over DACA?

What to really watch today: The House floor during each unrelated vote Thursday. That's where the whipping will be happening.

How you'll know if there are problems: If sudden conference or caucus meetings are called.

Shortly before midnight Wednesday night, McConnell took to the Senate floor to file the budget deal legislative text and file cloture on it. CNN reports staff was drafting the legislation until right before it was filed -- a reminder, this is a very, very wide ranging, large scale deal.

The timeline

Here's how this all is slated to work: Leaders locked in a time agreement for the preliminary, procedural vote, known as a cloture vote, on the budget deal (which is in the form of a substitute amendment to the continuing resolution bill that the House passed earlier in the week.) That vote failed to pass as expected just after noon on Thursday.

There will need to be a vote on the amendment, then a vote on final passage. The senate can move as fast -- or slow -- on those as senators allow. If everyone's agreeable? Things can move very quickly. If not? In truth, it's gonna be a very long day/night.

When the Senate passes the budget deal, aides say they expect it to take around three to four hours to get over to the House and onto the floor and into debate. Then the House will vote.

Important note: CNN's Congress extraordinaire Deirdre Walsh picked this up Wednesday night -- don't be surprised if there's a move at some point to push through a 24-hour continuing resolution extension. Not because they don't have the votes, but because they are simply running out of time. Aides on both sides are hopeful they can avoid it, but, well, the Senate is the Senate so contingency plans are available.


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