Visa Crunch

Progressive urge the US House speaker and Senate leader to keep funding for immigration, housing unchanged in the reconciliation bill

As Democrats consider across-the-board cuts to the multitrillion-dollar tax and spending plan, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on Democratic leaders to ensure that financing for immigration reform and affordable housing remains in a wide reconciliation bill.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent on October 8, the progressive firebrand demanded that the upcoming measure include at least $328 billion in funding for public housing, low-income transit, and immigration.

“The Build Back Better reconciliation package is a once in a generation opportunity to build a sustainable and prosperous future for our country – affordable housing, quality sustainable and accessible public transportation, and sound immigration reform must remain priorities in the debate,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote alongside seven progressive House Democrats.

The lawmakers asked for a total of $207 billion to create a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children and are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as TPS holders, essential workers, and farmworkers.

“It is critical that we preserve the entirety of this funding allocation,” the letter stated, “not only because these communities have been the backbone of our national economy throughout this pandemic and beyond, but also because the United States is their only home and refuge from the political, economic, and climate disasters they are fleeing.”

Immigration policies have emerged as a critical component in rapprochement talks, with numerous Democrats threatening to vote no on the spending bill unless citizenship elements are included. Still, it’s uncertain whether immigration reform would be supported by the Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan referee who decides whether items can be included in a reconciliation bill.

The “Byrd Rule,” which precludes “extraneous” measures from being included in reconciliation so that only things influencing the national budget can be included, applies to provisions.

Left-wing Democrats also pressured Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Pelosi, (D-Calif.), to keep $207 billion for public housing in the reconciliation package, some of which would go toward constructing and sustaining affordable housing, as well as rental assistance. They wanted an additional $14 billion to help low-income people move around and connect neighborhoods that had been cut off by previous investments.

“As you work to finalize the package, we urge you to maintain the level of funding for public and affordable housing, immigration reform, and accessible transportation in low-income communities,” the letter said. “These priorities are critical to the economic recovery of New York City, and our great nation as a whole.”

Their demands come as Democrats try to overcome internal party strife that threatens to torpedo the bill, which makes up the core of Vice President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. Now as President, Biden has stepped to try to defuse the building internal party feud between moderates and progressives and has spoken with Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

The White House, according to Politico, is considering big cutbacks to the reconciliation package, which is anticipated to cost between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion.

The concern now is whether lawmakers would make minor cuts to every program they wish to include in the broad family and climate plan, or whether they will completely remove some programs.

Pelosi stated in a “Dear Colleague” letter that her caucus supports a smaller list of policy reforms that would last longer. “Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families,” Pelosi wrote.

In addition to the infrastructure plan, Democrats have only a few legislative weeks to negotiate and pass a budget bill in both chambers, which Biden sees as vital to his campaign promise to work across the aisle. However, the party will have to deal with two imminent crises: a government shutdown and a financial default.

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