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DHS headed for yearlong stopgap as appropriations finale comes into focus

Homeland Security programs were too vexing; negotiators ready to keep status quo, for now

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., right, and Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., attend a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on  Jan. 25.
Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., right, and Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., attend a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Jan. 25. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Negotiations over the fiscal 2024 Homeland Security bill have fallen apart and lawmakers are now planning for a full-year continuing resolution for the agency, sources familiar with the talks say.

Appropriators are working on what adjustments to the DHS bill would be needed as “anomalies” to prevent funding disruptions in key areas, sources said, a clear sign that lawmakers no longer expect to reach an agreement on the bill.

The yearlong stopgap bill for the agency would count as “full-year appropriations” and not trigger automatic cuts on April 30 that were laid out in the debt limit law if a part-year CR were still in place, lawmakers believe. 

Other than the Homeland Security hangup, optimism is mounting that a final agreement needed to wrap up outstanding fiscal 2024 spending bills is in reach, though some challenges remain.

Lawmakers are hoping to finalize text and release the package on Sunday, including the final, compromise versions of the Defense, Financial Services, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations bills. The DHS stopgap measure would be part of the package as well.

Most of the other bills are in better shape at this point, sources say. Specifically, the two largest measures in the package, the Defense and Labor-HHS-Education bills, have limited remaining issues, Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Thursday. 

The Financial Services appropriations bill has a couple of holdups, but that subcommittee’s Senate chair, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he expects lawmakers will work through those by Sunday. 

Funding for agencies covered by the six bills would lapse after March 22 under the current continuing resolution. President Joe Biden signed the first package, which covered the six other full-year bills, on Saturday. 

Homeland hangups

The Homeland Security bill has been the most difficult all along.

Appropriators were continuing to work toward a full-year DHS bill as recently as Thursday morning. However, as of Thursday afternoon it appeared the two parties and chambers wouldn’t be able to resolve all their differences, and instead would simply default to status quo funding levels and policies currently in place.

The continuing resolution for DHS would be included as part of the overall package with the remaining five spending bills, a source familiar with the talks said. Anomalies under consideration include extra Secret Service funding for protection of presidential candidates, and the Alaska delegation has been seeking to add money for a new Coast Guard icebreaker.

Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Chair Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said the negotiations have been difficult. Earlier Thursday, Murphy said negotiators were still intent on reaching a deal though they would “pretty soon” need to consider whether a backup option was necessary.

Murphy said Republicans seemed intent on walking away from a deal, just as they did on a negotiated, bipartisan border package that was previously attached to the Senate’s foreign aid supplemental before being dropped.

“Republicans need to make the decision that they want to get a deal on the border,” Murphy said. “I worry that the same thing is happening on the appropriations bill that happened on the border bill. Republicans may just be intent on keeping the border a mess.” 

While the supplemental package would have provided beefed-up border enforcement funds, it also contained provisions many Republicans felt were too generous to undocumented border crossers and would only incentivize more migration. 

On the regular fiscal 2024 DHS spending bill, House and Senate negotiators were forced to compromise at a single funding topline that necessitated a cut of around $1 billion from the House’s higher spending level.

The two bills already also had very different priorities.

The House’s Homeland Security bill included $2.1 billion for U.S.-Mexico border wall construction while the Senate’s had zero, for instance.

And within the Senate bill’s much more limited overall appropriation for Customs and Border Protection procurement accounts — $1.8 billion less than the House’s — there is $66 million for a Border Patrol station in Collins’ home state of Maine that wouldn’t get funded in the House version.

Among other stark differences: The Senate bill has $752 million to provide shelter and services for migrants released from custody, while the House’s has zero.

UNRWA dispute

One major difference remains in the State-Foreign Operations measure: funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, widely known as UNRWA.

Republicans want to eliminate that agency’s funding after Israel alleged that members of the group participated on Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Democrats argue that only UNRWA is prepared to provide the scale of aid needed in the Gaza Strip. 

“I think we have a significant disagreement over whether to condition aid to UNRWA; whether to separate out UNRWA-Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank from Gaza; or whether to have a complete ban on aid to UNRWA,” Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Chair Chris Coons, D-Del., said Thursday.

The U.S. suspended funding for the agency in January following that allegation, and the United Nations is currently investigating. 

“UNRWA is an organization that Israelis have been warning for years… has been totally captured by Hamas,” House State-Foreign Operations Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said Wednesday.  

While Republicans say that other nongovernmental organizations would be able to step up and fill the gap in providing aid to Gaza, Democrats believe that those organizations are not capable at this point of getting the job done. 

For example, Coons said that 2.5 million Palestinians in 10 refugee camps in Jordan receive their health care, education and waste removal from UNRWA. 

“I mean it basically runs as a municipal government,” he said. “And I was recently in both Jordan and Lebanon and heard what the consequences would be both in terms of stability and the humanitarian concerns. It would be very, very difficult to quickly replace UNRWA.” 

In a floor speech Thursday, Van Hollen, a member of the State-Foreign Operations subcommittee, said it was unfair to cut off all aid to the U.N. agency.

“Punish the 14,” Van Hollen said, referring to those accused of waging attacks on Oct. 7. “Don’t punish 2 million Gazans.”

Smaller issues 

The outstanding Homeland Security bill and UNRWA dispute in State-Foreign Operations remain the two biggest roadblocks at this point, though there are some other pending issues at a smaller scale.  

In the Legislative Branch bill, some members, including House Legislative Branch Appropriations Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Nev., are pushing to remove language that would block a pay increase for members of Congress. 

The language to block the pay increase was included in the final versions of both the Senate and House Legislative Branch bills, though the House Legislative Branch bill came out of committee with the member pay raise in the bill. GOP leaders then used a self-executing rule to block the increase before bringing the bill to the floor.

If that language is not included in the bill, most members would receive a 4.6 percent, or $8,000 pay increase, according to the Congressional Research Service. This would be the first pay bump for members of Congress in nearly 15 years, as pay for most members has been frozen at $174,000 since 2009. 

Also, in the Senate Labor-HHS-Education bill, Massachusetts Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren included an earmark for $850,000 for LGTBQ Senior Housing Inc., which caters to older LGTBQ adults. The funding would be used to convert a former Boston Public School building into 74 units of affordable housing for seniors. 

Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., originally included the earmark in the House’s Transportation-HUD appropriations bill, but House Republicans stripped it and two others during committee debate.

The other two — $1.8 million that Rep. Brendan F. Boyle requested for an expansion project at the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia and $970,000 that Rep. Chrissy Houlahan requested for a transitional housing program at the LGBT Center of Greater Reading  — did not make it into the final version of the Transportation-HUD measure signed into law on Saturday.

Democratic Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman had secured funding for Boyle’s project in the Senate’s version of the Transportation-HUD bill. But they dropped their support for the project in the face of Republican attacks on the center for hosting a monthly party for a fetish group. 

Fetterman later said that he still supports the Philadelphia project, and asked for the earmark’s removal only after it became clear the only options were stripping it or having it removed from the package. 

Paul M. Krawzak, David Lerman, Rachel Oswald and Caitlin Reilly contributed to this report. 

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