Negotiators Race to Finish Government Funding Bills After Reaching Deal on Homeland Security Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Negotiators from Congress and the White House scrambled Monday to complete work on the remaining government funding bills for the fiscal year and avoid a partial shutdown for key departments that would begin this weekend without legislative action.

Six months into the fiscal year, Congress is about halfway home in passing spending measures expected to total about $1.65 trillion. Lawmakers passed the first portion of spending bills in early March, funding about 30% of the government. Now lawmakers are focused on the larger package, and in what has become routine, are brushing up against the deadline when federal funding expires.

Agreement had been reached on five of the six spending bills that make up the second package, but negotiators clashed over the measure that provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for securing and managing U.S. borders, among other things. A person familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to discuss them publicly said late Monday that a deal had been reached on the Homeland Security spending. The breakthrough sets the stage for Congress to dodge a partial shutdown.

The stakes for both sides are immense as border security emerges as a central issue in the 2024 campaigns and the flow of migrants crossing the southern border far outpaces the capacity of the U.S. immigration system to deal with it.

Negotiators had been moving toward a simple solution: passing a continuing resolution that would mostly extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security, though with some increase from 2023 spending levels.

But a senior Republican aide said House Republicans pushed for more resources for the border than the continuing resolution would have provided. The White House also eventually rejected the continuing resolution approach but didn't make that clear in communications with congressional allies until the "11th hour," the aide said, increasing the risk of a short-term shutdown.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday declined to speak to timelines during the negotiations but emphasized that funding the government is lawmakers' responsibility.

"It is their job to keep the government open," she said.

Drilling down more specifically on funding for the Department of Homeland Security, she said the Biden administration has "maximized their operations" and removed more people in the past 10 months than during any year since fiscal year 2013. She said it was important to continue "that operational pace."

"Obviously, we believe DHS needs additional funding. We've always said that," Jean-Pierre said.

Even with the possible release of legislative text early this week, it's unclear whether Congress can avoid a brief partial shutdown. House rules call for giving lawmakers 72 hours to review a bill before voting. House Speaker Mike Johnson will then likely have to bring the bill up through a streamlined process requiring two-thirds support to pass.

Most of the "no" votes are expected to come from Republicans, who have been critical of the overall spending levels as well as the lack of policy mandates sought by some conservatives, such as restricting abortion access, eliminating diversity and inclusion programs within federal agencies, and banning gender-affirming care.

Then, the Senate would act on the bill, but it would require all senators to agree on speeding up the process to get to a final vote before the midnight Friday deadline. Such agreements generally require Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to allow for votes on various amendments to the bill in return for an expedited final vote.

The package being finalized this week is expected to provide about $886 billion for the Pentagon. The bill will also fund the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and others.

Overall, the two spending packages provide about a 3% boost for defense, while keeping nondefense spending roughly flat with the year before. That's in keeping with an agreement that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy worked out with the White House, which restricted spending for two years and suspended the debt ceiling into January 2025 so the federal government could continue paying its bills.

House Republicans have been determined to end the practice of packaging all 12 annual spending bills into one massive bill called an omnibus. They managed this time to break the spending bills into two parts.