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Congressional leaders unveil $1.2T funding deal

Congressional leaders have rolled out a sprawling package funding large swaths of the government for the rest of fiscal year 2024 after last-minute drama over Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding threatened efforts to avert a shutdown later this week.

The package combines funding for half of the 12 annual government spending bills, and sets off a sprint for lawmakers to put a stamp on the more than a trillion dollars in spending and prevent major agencies from suffering a lapse in funds.

The plan includes measures funding for DHS; the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and State; the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and general government and foreign operations. 

Funding for the agencies could lapse on Saturday morning, leaving lawmakers with little time to get the package to President Biden’s desk. House Republicans are hopeful of a vote on Friday, but Senate procedure could draw out the consideration process into the weekend. 

Both sides have started claiming early wins in the spending fight ahead of the rollout on early Thursday. Republicans have touted funding cuts in areas like foreign operations and diversity, and Democrats have boasted investments in childcare and domestic programs, while fending off GOP-backed so-called “poison pill” riders.

Some of the highlights Republicans have seized on in the package includes cuts to overall foreign aid funds, the elimination of funds to a key United Nations agency that provides relief for Palestinian refugees, cuts to NGO funding, as well as previously secured concessions yanking back dollars for the IRS and coronavirus relief efforts.

“This FY24 appropriations legislation is a serious commitment to strengthening our national defense by moving the Pentagon toward a focus on its core mission while expanding support for our brave men and women who serve in uniform,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said of the package, which provides funding for a 5.2 percent pay jump for service members that was greenlit in the annual defense authorization bill that Congress passed last year. 

“Importantly, it halts funding for the United Nations agency which employed terrorists who participated in the October 7 attacks against Israel,” he also said, referring to language in the package barring funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that already has some Democrats fuming. 

Democrats have also touted a list of investments secured as part of the legislative package, including a $1 billion jump in funding for childcare and Head Start, funding boosts for cancer and Alzheimer’s research, “climate change and resilience activities” at the Pentagon, and 12,000 additional “Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans that assisted the United States,” negotiators highlighted upon release.

“This legislation helps ensure America’s children can be successful, no matter their background, by increasing funding for child care and Head Start,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “It also protects women’s rights and access to reproductive care from Republicans’ attacks.”

Lawmakers had initially expected the six-bill package to be unveiled on Sunday. But those plans fell apart over the weekend due to a dispute over DHS funding amid deep partisan divisions on border policies.

Congressional leaders had initially planned for a stopgap measure for the DHS bill, seen as the toughest in the batch. But Republicans said the plan changed after the White House rejected the proposal and pressed for more funding for the agency.  

The push by the Biden administration comes as both sides have been ramping up their messaging on the border just months out from the presidential election in November.  

In the newly unveiled package, Republicans cheer increases to ICE detention bed capacity and funding for 22,000 Border Patrol Agents, while Democrats highlight what they described as investments in border security, a lack of funds for border wall construction, as well as additional dollars to ensure pay equity for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel.

Congress passed its first batch of full-year spending bills earlier this month, including funding for the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Commerce and Energy. 

While the previous package passed with strong bipartisan support in the GOP-led House, Democratic support was critical to clearing the bill in the lower chamber as conservatives have come out strongly against the funding levels in the bipartisan compromise bills.  

The newly unveiled package also includes funding that could be hard to swallow for members on both sides of the aisle.

Before the text was even released this week, members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus and its allies already urged their colleagues to reject the expected deal, warning a vote for the legislation is a vote for the Biden administration’s “open border” policies. 

Funding bills for the Pentagon have also previously been tough votes for some Democrats, and any Republican-backed restrictions to UNRWA funding could also pose a roadblock for support from others.  

“Do they consider a win the fact that children are starving to death in Gaza and are going to be unable to get the food and medical supplies they need because of the lack of funding to UNRWA,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Wednesday, referring to Republicans. “If that’s a win, I’d hate to see what a loss looks like.”

The new deal caps off weeks of tough bipartisan, bicameral funding talks, which began to pick up at the start of the year, only after a months-long stalemate over how to fund the government for fiscal year 2024. 

Congress has so far had to pass four stopgap measures to keep the government funded into fiscal year 2024, which began Oct. 1. 

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