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Spending deal done, though final action could slip past deadline

More time needed to prep bill text, pass in both chambers, deliver to Biden

Steve Ricchetti, one of President Joe Biden's top negotiators, attends the official White House portrait unveiling ceremony for President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama on Sept. 7, 2022.
Steve Ricchetti, one of President Joe Biden's top negotiators, attends the official White House portrait unveiling ceremony for President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama on Sept. 7, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House GOP and Biden administration negotiators reached a fiscal 2024 Homeland Security spending deal Monday night, even as agencies face a potential brief appropriations lapse this weekend with time running tight.

Appropriators still need to put the finishing touches on the Homeland Security bill and report text following the White House’s last-second intervention over the weekend. Sources close to the talks aren’t ruling out a brief partial shutdown, though they are minimizing the potential effects of such a lapse given how close negotiators are to a deal and the likely short duration of any shutdown.

Lawmakers could pass a short-term stopgap bill to keep agencies operating for a few days, though sources say appropriators are not yet working on that patch. And lawmakers’ desire to start their two-week Easter recess on time — and catch the start of March Madness this weekend — could inspire quicker action.

Appropriators began writing the final version of the DHS bill Monday while final kinks were still being worked out. Once the bill is finished, committee aides need time to do their typical “readout” or line-by-line review, and then finish putting the final pieces of the bill together, known as “laying in.” And the Congressional Budget Office would still need to score it to measure the budgetary impact and whether it adheres to statutory spending caps.

As a result, the formal posting of the final six-bill package could slip to as late as Wednesday, sources familiar with the state of play said, though they were hoping to unveil it late Tuesday.

If Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., adheres to his chamber’s 72-hour review window before the vote — likely to be on suspension of the rules, requiring two-thirds support — that could push off the House vote until Saturday. And then given Senate procedural hoops, including at least one potential cloture vote, it could be Monday before the package heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

Landing the plane

The package was on a faster track until Saturday.

Appropriators had been working on a full-year continuing resolution for the Homeland Security measure after talks fell apart last week. But in a dramatic shift after White House intervention, lawmakers pivoted back to a full-year bill late Sunday.

Top White House aides including Jeff Zients, Biden’s chief of staff, and Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, pressed Hill negotiators to abandon the adjusted stopgap measure under consideration. They argued that funding “anomalies,” or targeted increases for priority accounts, wouldn’t be enough given the scope of the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since then, White House officials and House GOP leaders had been trading offers on an expanded border package. By late Monday they had whittled down their differences and were finalizing the measure, sources said.

“A few questions still to answer, but they seem to be home,” one person familiar with the talks said earlier in the day. “Have to figure out the runway needed to formally land the plane.”

Republicans had also been seeking more funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention capacity, and Democrats were pushing for more money for Transportation Security Administration pay raises. 

All of the different priorities were putting pressure on negotiators to maintain a DHS spending ceiling that didn’t violate the topline fiscal 2024 deal Johnson brokered with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. There was some concern another one of the bills in the package would potentially have to give up some of its money in order to fulfill all the Homeland needs, which would pose its own set of problems.

The package includes the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations measures as well as Homeland Security. Biden signed final fiscal 2024 appropriations for the other six annual bills into law earlier this month. 

Short-term lapse

Both parties spent the weekend carping at each other over who would be to blame if there was another partial shutdown.

But the reality is that a deal between the White House and Johnson is very likely to clear Congress and get to Biden’s desk; it just might take more time than anyone would like.

The experience of January 2018 is instructive. Congress let funding lapse at midnight on Jan. 20, 2018, with federal agencies spending the weekend and all day Monday in a shutdown.

Then-President Donald Trump signed a three-week stopgap measure into law late in the evening of Monday, Jan. 22, and the Office of Personnel Management gave federal workers the all-clear to report back to work Tuesday morning.

In his memo to federal agencies providing guidance just prior to the funding lapse, then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney wrote that furloughed workers shouldn’t do any work-related activities over the weekend. On Monday, they should report to work only for the “no more than three or four hours” needed to tie up loose ends and wind down their projects, he wrote.

At that point in 2018, there still wasn’t agreement on Capitol Hill on the stopgap bill’s duration. If there’s a deal in place on the spending bill this week with a reasonable expectation that it has the votes to pass, OMB can hold any shutdown orders for up to 24 hours, under longstanding agency guidance.

Furlough notices would still need to be sent out to affected workers, likely on Sunday. But as in 2018 that can be pulled back quickly after final appropriations are signed into law.

In a review of past government funding gaps, the Congressional Research Service grouped the severity of shutdown into categories, classifying “brief” lapses as anything lasting three days or fewer. 

“Notably, many of the funding gaps do not appear to have resulted in a ‘shutdown,'” the CRS wrote. Some of those gaps “did not result in a completion of shutdown operations due to both the funding gap’s short duration and an expectation that appropriations would soon be enacted.”

After funding for agencies covered by the first six fiscal 2024 spending bills cleared the Senate the evening of March 8, Biden was at his home in Wilmington, Del. Due to the late hour and the time it took to get the bill to him for signing, funding technically lapsed overnight and into Saturday morning. But OMB held any shutdown implementation procedures, knowing it would all be over shortly.

Paul M. Krawzak and Peter Cohn contributed to this report.

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