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Homeland stopgap plan faces last-minute White House pushback

Biden administration, Hill Republicans trade barbs on border policy even as talks continue

Sen. Christopher S.  Murphy, D-Conn., speaks about Republicans abandoning the bipartisan border deal during a Feb. 6 press conference.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., speaks about Republicans abandoning the bipartisan border deal during a Feb. 6 press conference. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Biden administration is objecting to congressional leaders’ earlier plans to fund Homeland Security appropriations with a stopgap measure through Sept. 30, throwing a wrench into efforts to release the final fiscal 2024 appropriations package Sunday, sources familiar with the delay said. 

The White House’s late ask for an extra $1.56 billion in border-related resources and reluctance to otherwise back the full-year continuing resolution under discussion for DHS was behind the latest hangup, these people said.

However, White House and congressional staff were meeting Sunday to discuss options, and sources said offers are being exchanged as lawmakers continued to work toward a solution.  

Other disputes over “anomalies” for the measure, typically needed in CRs to avoid funding disruptions and address key bipartisan priorities, were also ongoing but were viewed as more resolvable than the Biden administration demand, which a GOP leadership aide described as an “11th-hour” intervention.

The new White House proposal, which Republicans have rejected as not sufficiently tied to border protection and immigration enforcement, was first reported by Politico.  

The delay could be material given a March 22 deadline to get the final, $1.2 trillion-plus wrapup spending bill through both chambers. Some sources familiar with the talks expressed hope the measure could still be posted late Sunday, though there was concern the timetable might be slipping.

If President Joe Biden doesn’t have a bill to sign by next weekend, partial shutdown procedures would begin for agencies covered by the bill. The Senate typically needs at least a couple days to process such bills once they come over from the House. And the House has a rule requiring members get 72 hours notice to review legislation before voting on it, meaning text would need to be posted Sunday in order to vote Wednesday.

The other bills in the package — Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations — had their own hangups but were considered in better shape and likely to be completed on Sunday.

Already in bad shape

Talks on the broader Homeland Security bill were already in bad shape last week, with congressional leaders eventually calling off the talks and deciding to go with a full-year CR for DHS. But the White House ramped up its pressure campaign over the weekend to get Hill leaders to reconsider, or at least fund the extra border package they want.

“Democrats are very concerned with the status of DHS appropriations after Republicans rejected Democrats’ offer for additional border security,” a White House official said Sunday. “Without this funding, DHS will struggle to have the resources it needs to even sustain current operations and staff.”

A GOP leadership aide countered Sunday that the requested funds were more like a “blank check to simply ‘manage’ people into the country and bail out sanctuary cities” than tied directly to enforcing immigration law.

“Republicans have been clear and consistent that more appropriations are necessary for border enforcement, which Democrats had consistently objected to,” the aide said. “On this front, the House [Homeland Security] bill provided significantly more than the Senate bill, and House offers throughout the bicameral negotiation have done the same.”

The aide said the White House’s late demand “has placed us on the brink of a shutdown.” 

Anomalies in play

Up until Saturday at least, congressional Democrats and Republicans had been haggling over anomalies to that section of the bill, which occur during most stopgap negotiations but generally are broader in scope the lengthier a CR gets.

Republicans had been pushing for extra funding to allow greater Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention bed capacity than the 34,000 average daily population supported by the fiscal 2023 funding level for custody operations.

The House-passed fiscal 2024 bill would support a 41,500 average daily population of detainees, boosting the account by $670 million above the flat-funded CR level. The Senate version backed the status quo policy of 34,000 detention beds. 

The White House, meanwhile, sought to cut that ICE account in its fiscal 2024 budget request by about $470 million, intended to support a lower, 25,000 average daily population in custody.

That was before the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border really started to get big, however; later, the White House requested an emergency package of $13.6 billion for border resources. A bipartisan group of senators later struck a deal to boost that emergency funding request to over $20 billion, including $3.2 billion to house migrant detainees — more than double the current budget for custody operations.

It wasn’t clear whether Democrats have been willing to accommodate anomaly funding for ICE in the behind-the-scenes talks, sources said.

At the same time, Democrats want a larger anomaly for Transportation Security Administration pay raises; the House and Senate had been roughly $250 million apart in their earlier versions of Homeland Security funding bills.

For years, TSA workers have been paid less than their counterparts at other agencies, raising concerns about low morale and high attrition.

In the fiscal 2023 omnibus, TSA staff finally got more substantial pay raises, but in order to keep the spigot open, it requires a sizable new allocation for fiscal 2024. The House included an $856 million bump to ensure raises for TSA airport screeners, while the Senate included $1.1 billion more to take care of all affected TSA workers.

Despite those differences, congressional Democrats had largely gotten on board with the idea of a full-year CR for the Homeland Security bill, and both parties were ready to move forward. It wasn’t clear how much of an impediment the White House’s position would be with next weekend’s shutdown deadline looming.

“House Republicans will continue to work in good faith to reach consensus on the appropriations bills that reprioritizes DHS funding towards enforcing border and immigration laws,” Raj Shah, a spokesman for Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said in a statement.

The White House official said any delay in completing the fiscal 2024 bills would be Republicans’ own fault. 

“Democrats see this as the latest example of Republicans’ efforts to play politics and sow chaos on the border ahead of November, after blocking the toughest bipartisan border security deal in modern history,” the official said.

Peter Cohn contributed to this report.

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