Congressional appropriators met Monday afternoon in an attempt to find an agreeable solution to fund the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2019 budget as the threat of another partial government shutdown hovers overhead.

House and Senate lawmakers have until Feb. 15 to develop a bill that can pass both chambers before the continuing resolution installed Jan. 25 runs out, and government agencies including the Coast Guard, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and others see their funding run out once again. Last week, members of the House and Senate homeland security appropriations subcommittees formed a joint conference committee to attempt to find a solution by the end of this week (Defense Daily, Jan. 30).

Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.

The leaders of both chambers’ appropriations committees were in attendance Monday afternoon, including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas).

The outcome of the meeting was not revealed by Defense Daily’s deadline Monday, but lawmakers were debating a new cap on the number of detention beds operated and maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), introduced by House Democrats over the weekend.

“For far too long, the Trump administration has been tearing communities apart with its cruel immigration policies,” said House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) in a Sunday statement. “A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country.”

According to a House Democratic aide speaking on background, Democrats would not support a full-year continuing resolution for DHS as a possible solution, unless it contained some anomalies.

“A so-called ‘clean’ full-year CR for Homeland Security would allow the Trump administration to increase funding for both physical barriers and ICE detention beds,” the aide said.

A full-year CR could also allow the Trump administration to increase funding for physical barriers along the wall to about $2 billion, “above the level that Democrats can support,” the aide said.

The aide added that in conference negotiations, Democrats and Republicans had negotiated the potential funding level for ICE down to a range that would require the agency to reduce the number of detention beds to between 34,000 and 38.500 by the end of 2019. Under a full-year CR, the government could fund at least 46,000 beds.

Shelby told reporters he had “more optimism Thursday” regarding the possibility of securing a deal, and said the ICE detention beds are “a big obstacle.”

Lowey told reporters as she entered the meeting that she was “cautiously optimistic” a deal could be reached, and that the number of ICE detention beds included in a final bill was “part of the negotiation” with Republican senators.

Granger said she was “always optimistic, but also realistic” in terms of negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized Democrats for inserting a “poison pill” into the negotiations with the limits on ICE detention beds and said they are risking a second government shutdown.