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Lawmakers hold out hope of Friday night spending finale

Despite critiques from right and left, massive package seems ready for liftoff

Sen. Susan Collins is hopeful the final appropriations package can be wrapped up Friday.
Sen. Susan Collins is hopeful the final appropriations package can be wrapped up Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House appears poised to pass the $1.2 trillion final appropriations package Friday morning, and the Senate may not be far behind. 

Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Thursday that the Senate could start considering amendments around 1 p.m. Friday, following the expected House vote around 11 a.m. 

“Right now, the effort is to identify duplicative amendments, and try to see who wants to proceed, and narrow down the list,” she said. 

Lawmakers are rushing to pass the legislation with funding for several agencies expiring after 11:59 p.m. Friday and an upcoming two-week recess.

Collins, who has never missed a vote but will be away for her mother’s funeral on Saturday, said she thinks the Senate can wrap up Friday night, though she cautioned that it depends on cooperation from all 100 senators. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the goal was getting the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk Friday night, though he didn’t make any promises.

The compromise deal is expected to pass first in the House under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority. The massive 1,012 page bill includes the Defense, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch, Labor-HHS-Education and State-Foreign Operations measures, with something for both parties to take home to their constituents.

[Final spending package unveiled, countdown to recess begins]

President Joe Biden, who signed another, smaller package of spending bills into law earlier this month, has vowed to sign this package “immediately” after Congress clears it. 

While the odds were looking good due to the bipartisan deals that were cut, the huge bill was facing heat from the usual suspects.

On the right: Senate and House conservatives who believe it spends too much. On the left: progressive Democrats and advocates who are unhappy with the Homeland Security bill and removal of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  

Overall, however, lawmakers are projecting confidence that the legislation will have the votes it needs to pass in both chambers. 

“I think we’re going to be fine. I do,” House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. “I won’t bullshit you.”

‘A lot of concessions’

The Homeland Security bill took the longest for lawmakers to finalize following last-minute intervention by the White House over the weekend. 

Appropriators had been putting the finishing touches on a yearlong stopgap measure when the White House rejected that effort and hammered out a fully fleshed-out bill with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and his staff. 

That measure included a significant increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds, from 34,000 in current law to 41,500 in this bill, as well as increased funding for U.S. Border Patrol agents.

House Homeland Security Appropriations Chairman David Joyce, R-Ohio, said the bill is good for Republicans, who received “a lot of concessions” from Democrats. “It’s not everything I wanted, but it’s a good bill,” he said. 

Democrats did successfully zero out money for the border wall in the legislation, which House Homeland Security Appropriations ranking member Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, heralded as his “biggest priority.”

While Cueller said he wished the bill could have maintained the current funding level for the nongovernmental organizations providing aid to migrants, House Republicans had sought steeper cuts than the nearly 20 percent reduction that ended up in the bill. 

“Overall, this is a good bill to what the alternative would have been from the Republicans,” he said. “So in many ways, to me, it’s balanced.” 

Advocates are upset by the bill’s cut in funding for organizations that provide shelter and services to migrants, as well as the ICE and Customs and Border Protection funding. 

“More funding for ICE and CBP translates to increased targeting and racial profiling, more people in abusive immigration detention, and heightened surveillance of communities nationwide,” Setareh Ghandehari, Detention Watch Network’s advocacy director, said in a Thursday statement urging members to vote against the legislation. 

It’s not yet clear how many, if any, House Democrats will oppose the bill due to these provisions. 

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a former chair of the Progressive Caucus, said he would support the package, as Democrats were able to avoid the extent of cuts House Republicans had been proposing. 

“Across the board, it’s a win,” he said. “Certainly there’s always provisions you aren’t going to like in something that big, but I think there are workarounds in a lot of the concerns that I and others have.” 

UNRWA issues 

One provision progressives are unhappy with is the bill’s continued block on funding for UNRWA. The Biden administration blocked funding for the organization following Israel’s allegations that UNRWA workers participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. 

The law bans obligating pre-existing funds for the agency through March 2025 and does not include any fiscal 2024 funding for the agency, a top priority of House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Congressional Democrats, however, had argued that UNRWA is the only organization able to provide Gaza the amount of aid it needs. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said he would vote against the package due to the provision, which he said would lead to famine in Gaza. 

“America should not be indifferent to children dying of dehydration and starvation because of man-made famine,” Khanna, another Progressive Caucus member, said. “And there’s no way to have aid distributed into Gaza without that distribution system.” 

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., said she was leaning “yes” on the package as she wants to avoid a government shutdown, though she is worried about the UNRWA ban. The organization is needed to meet the dire need of the Palestinian people, she said. 

“We have institutions, and corporations and businesses where you have bad actors, right?” Watson Coleman said. “You don’t dismember the corporation or the entity or the institution, you throw out the bad actors.” 

The pre-existing pause on funding was too much to overcome in the talks, DeLauro said. 

“We’re looking at ways we can mitigate against it,” she said. 

‘Swamp at it again’

Senate and House conservatives were, predictably, also unhappy with the giant spending package. 

“Classic DC swamp at it again. Spend, spend, spend. I’ve had it!” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., wrote Thursday on X, formerly Twitter.

Norman laid out some earmarks in the package that he objected to, including a $400,000 project secured by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. for Briarpatch Youth Services in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, an organization that helps homeless and at-risk youth. The organization provides gender-affirming clothing to LGBTQ teens, which Norman objects to. 

House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., who is considering running to be the next top House Republican appropriator, said he would vote against the bill due to earmarks he finds objectionable. 

“We got rid of all our poison riders, and Schumer wouldn’t agree to take away their poisonous earmarks,” he said. 

In the Senate, conservatives like Rand Paul, R-Ky., had vowed to seek amendments even before the package was formally unveiled. But Paul sounded open to the typical trade of agreeing to speed up the process in exchange for amendment votes. 

“We will insist that there be a debate over spending, and the repercussions of spending money this way,” Paul said. 

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