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DHS funding, tied up in border talks, stalls appropriations deal

Republicans want more for immigration enforcement; Democrats push other nondefense priorities

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah,  speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on border security legislation on Wednesday. Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also appear.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference in the Capitol on border security legislation on Wednesday. Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also appear. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Department of Homeland Security funding has emerged as a key sticking point slowing down the talks between top appropriators trying to hammer out final spending agreements for fiscal 2024.

House Republicans are pushing for a higher DHS subcommittee allocation than Senate Democrats, who want that money to be spent on other nondefense priorities, sources familiar with the talks say. 

And the Senate’s ongoing supplemental negotiations are casting a shadow over the talks, as lawmakers attempt to reach an agreement to provide funding for Ukraine and Israel as well as border enforcement.

The topline agreement between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., includes $772.7 billion for domestic and foreign aid programs, which is roughly flat from the fiscal 2023 level. 

House Republicans and Senate Democrats are at a crossroads on how to allocate that funding. Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, have been negotiating subcommittee allocations for two-and-a-half weeks since the Johnson-Schumer deal was struck on Jan. 7.

The current stopgap spending law sets a two-tiered deadline for the twelve annual appropriations bills, with a March 1 deadline for four of the bills and March 8 for the remaining eight. Appropriators need to finalize a subcommittee allocation agreement this week or next week at the latest in order to allow appropriators enough time to wrap up final appropriations by the start of March, veterans of the process say. 

However, Murray and Granger still need to reach an accord that would allow the twelve Senate and House subcommittees to start hammering out the details of their bills.  

The Senate’s initial appropriations bills contain spending levels that are much closer to what the Schumer-Johnson agreement allows, although Murray and Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, added nearly $14 billion — $5.7 billion of it for nondefense accounts — that they classified as emergency spending. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., left, speaks with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, before the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the president’s supplemental request for the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments on Nov. 8, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans heralded eliminating that extra money as a victory in the topline fight. Of that total, $2 billion of those Senate add-ons went to their Homeland Security bill. That enabled Senate appropriators to give the DHS subcommittee a lower base funding allocation, or 302(b), and still eke out a slight overall increase for the department above the fiscal 2023 enacted version.

While bipartisan, the Senate DHS bill received four GOP “no” votes on the Appropriations panel, the most of any of the 12 bills the committee reported. The opponents — including the Homeland Security subcommittee’s ranking member, Katie Britt of Alabama; Bill Hagerty of Tennessee; Marco Rubio of Florida and Deb Fischer of Nebraska — thought the measure didn’t allocate enough money to border enforcement.

The Senate’s bill totaled $61.4 billion, while the House-passed version would provide a larger $63.1 billion. Among the differences: The House bill would support a larger, 41,500 average daily Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention bed capacity, versus 34,000 in the Senate bill. And the House bill has $2.1 billion for border wall construction.

Johnson had considered pushing for a lower DHS funding level in the subcommittee allocation battle, with the idea that doing so could inspire President Joe Biden to make policy concessions Republicans want. However, it appears the House Republican posture has rebounded back to the GOP’s traditional stance of pushing for more border enforcement spending.

Supplemental divide

The extent to which the supplemental and fiscal 2024 appropriations talks are tied is disputed, with some sources saying the two negotiations are happening independently of one another. However, others believe the shadow of the supplemental talks is playing a significant role in slowing down the subcommittee allocations talks. 

Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Chair Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., is the leading Democratic negotiator for the supplemental. He said Wednesday that the package would include a funding total higher than the $13.6 billion that the Biden administration requested for the border in October.

It’s still unclear to what extent the money would be divided between enforcement efforts and services to aid migrants who’ve entered the U.S. One lawmaker familiar with the discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the outcome of the supplemental talks on funding for detention beds, for instance, could influence the amount of money negotiators settle on for the regular fiscal 2024 bill.

But Johnson has expressed skepticism about the Senate’s efforts, and it’s unclear if he would bring such a bill to the floor. Under the assumption there won’t be a supplemental deal, some House Republicans’ view is more of the money should migrate to the regular DHS bill.

“I think one of the concerns is Homeland, because we don’t know if there’s going to be a supplemental that has extra money for that or not,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a senior appropriator, said earlier this month.

Caroline Coudriet and David Lerman contributed to this report.

This report first appeared on CQ.com.

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