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House leaders mull Friday vote on final spending package

Brief weekend shutdown appears likely, though little impact on government operations is expected

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., put a little distance between his caucus and the Homeland Security funding deal.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., put a little distance between his caucus and the Homeland Security funding deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House could vote as soon as Friday on the yet-to-be-unveiled final fiscal 2024 appropriations package, in a race to limit the damage of a brief funding lapse this weekend.

With legislative text not expected until Wednesday after a dust-up over Homeland Security Department funding, a brief funding gap appeared almost inevitable once a continuing resolution expires at midnight Friday. Even if the House can pass the package Friday, the Senate would need to take it up over the weekend in a best-case scenario.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., told GOP lawmakers in a meeting Tuesday that he’d consider putting the measure on the floor Friday, people familiar with the discussions said. That timeline would require shortening the chamber’s standard 72-hour review period.

“My understanding is that we’ve got — with fingers crossed — a way forward to get this thing done by Friday,” Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, a senior Republican appropriator, said Tuesday.

House Appropriations ranking Democrat Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut echoed that assessment. “Our hope is that we can be able to vote on Friday,” she said, adding that the six bills “have been put to bed.”

But the slower-moving Senate would need time to process the $1.2 trillion-plus measure.

It appears lawmakers intended to keep the pressure on to wrap up the measure quickly, even at the expense of a brief possible shutdown. However, a very short stopgap extension to avoid any funding gap has not yet been totally ruled out.  

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a senior appropriator, expressed hope Tuesday night that the Senate could pass the package quickly as Congress tries to leave town for a two-week Easter recess that is scheduled to begin Friday night.  

“This is the United States Senate; we’re motivated by recesses,” Murkowski said.

‘Review and consider’

Members in both chambers are warily awaiting the negotiated text, particularly on the Homeland Security piece and whatever deal on border resources emerged from talks between top aides to President Joe Biden and Johnson.

With the measure likely to fall far short of the tough immigration restrictions sought by House Freedom Caucus members, Johnson is likely to put the package on the floor via suspension of the rules, which will require Democratic support due to a two-thirds majority threshold for passage. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., issued a statement on the funding deal Tuesday morning that didn’t take a position, though Democrats in his chamber are considered likely to back the measure.

In fact, Jeffries distanced his caucus from the agreement by referring to the “completion of negotiations between the Biden administration and House Republicans.” He added that after the text is finished, lawmakers “will review and consider the appropriations package in order to fund the government and meet the needs of hardworking American taxpayers.”

Biden, meanwhile, was more effusive, saying in his own statement that once the package reaches his desk, “I will sign it immediately.” That could be enough cover for members of Jeffries’ caucus to hold their noses and vote for it, particularly Democrats in purple to reddish districts in tougher races this November.

In the Senate, majority Democrats were largely cut out of the final negotiations as well. But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s statement Tuesday morning didn’t seek to put distance between his caucus and the agreement as Jeffries’ did. 

“Senate and House leaders and the White House have reached an agreement to finish the final set of full year appropriations bills,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “The Senate and House Appropriations Committees are in the process of finalizing text and reports for Congress to closely review and consider as soon as possible.”

Johnson’s statement was similarly terse, also using the “as soon as possible” phrasing.

Making the money last

House and Senate negotiators were headed toward a deal on a full-year CR for the Homeland Security bill, with various “anomalies” to adjust funding levels for key priorities, late last week. But the White House intervened over the weekend, arguing even a stopgap bill with anomalies wasn’t sufficient to meet the department’s needs, including along the southern border. 

A White House official said administration aides proposed nearly $1.6 billion extra across a range of DHS accounts, including Border Patrol agents; beds for migrant detainees; Customs personnel to intercept drug trafficking; Transportation Security Administration officers; disaster aid and cybersecurity response efforts. 

“Without this funding, DHS will struggle to have the resources it needs to even sustain current operations and staff,” the official said.

Charles Kieffer, the longtime top Democratic aide on the Senate Appropriations Committee who retired after the 117th Congress, backed up the White House’s arguments in a blog post Monday. 

“A full-year continuing resolution, operating at the levels established for the prior year, would be ineffective for any agency, but particularly for an agency like the Department of Homeland Security, whose mission is to prepare for and respond to the latest threats,” Kieffer wrote. 

Kieffer, who has personally handled the DHS account as that subcommittee’s top aide, added another wrinkle the White House didn’t mention: the detrimental impact of a CR on Coast Guard procurement. Alaska’s senators in particular are pushing for the Coast Guard to purchase another icebreaker to compete with Russia in the Arctic, which would be harder to accomplish as a stopgap bill anomaly.

Still, any time more resources for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in play, it raises concerns among progressives advocating for less restrictive border and immigration policies. That’s partly why taking the time to get the bill drafting right was critical.

The package will feature over 70 percent of fiscal 2024 discretionary funding, covering the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor, Education, State, Treasury, legislative branch operations and more as well as Homeland Security. Remaining federal agencies are already fully funded through Sept. 30.

It’s still possible lawmakers could speed up the process and avoid a funding lapse.

But even before the DHS deal was struck Monday night, sources were playing down the impact of a partial shutdown in this instance, arguing it was likely to be very short and mostly occur over the weekend. 

In January 2018, as a result of a lapse all agencies began their shutdown implementation procedures over the weekend and into Monday. But federal workers barely had time to wind down their projects before then-President Donald Trump signed a stopgap measure and employees were told to report back to work on Tuesday.

If the House were to pass the measure on Friday prior to the midnight deadline, with just the usual Senate procedural hoops left to jump through, the White House budget office could put a temporary hold on starting shutdown procedures.  

Paul M. Krawzak and Caitlin Reilly contributed to this report.

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