Likely setting up another showdown with the House over how much funding to provide President Trump for new fencing on the southern border, a Senate panel on Tuesday advanced its version of the fiscal year 2020 Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would provide $5 billion for wall construction.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday will mark up the Homeland Security subcommittee’s recommendation, which provides $53.2 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security. The House Appropriations Committee in June approved its version of the FY ’20 DHS spending bill that didn’t include any of the $5 billion requested for the border wall.
A year ago, despite Republicans controlling the House and Senate, Congress didn’t agree on an FY ’19 spending bill for DHS until early this year following a month-long shutdown of the department and several other agencies. The Trump administration had requested $5.7 billion for the border wall but the compromise between Senate Republicans and House Democrats after gaining control of the House in the Nov. 2019 mid-term elections provided $1.4 billion for physical barriers.
The Trump administration recently repurposed $3.6 billion in Defense Department construction funds for border wall construction, rankling Democrats in Congress. The administration previously reprogrammed $2.5 billion from DoD for the border wall.
“We just saw the President ransack $6.1 billion from the military for his wall—another $5 billion is a bridge too far,” Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee, said during the markup of the DHS bill.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), chairman of the subcommittee, said that if Congress appropriates the $5 billion requested for the border barriers, the administration will have $14.8 billion that has been provided for around 700 miles of fencing. The administration hasn’t said how much fencing it wants for the more than 1,900 miles of land border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The full committee markup on Thursday of the DHS bill will largely be along party lines, although Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said during the subcommittee meeting that he will vote for the measure. Tester and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the only other Democrats that spoke at the subcommittee markup, said they will vote against the bill due to the funding for the wall.
The subcommittee’s recommendation would provide $1.5 billion for the Coast Guard’s acquisition account, about $500 million less than House appropriators. The funding includes $457 million for the third Offshore Patrol Cutter, which is being built by Eastern Shipbuilding, and long-lead funds for the fourth and fifth ships, in line with House appropriators.
The Senate measure also provides $240 million for four Fast Response Cutters (FRCs). House appropriators are recommending $290 million for five FRCs, which are built by Bollinger Shipyards.
The proposed bill also provides $7.9 billion for operational and support for the Coast Guard, $269 million more than in FY ’19.
Republican and Democratic leadership on the Senate Appropriations Committee issued press releases with the highlights of the proposed DHS bill. The committee will release a detailed report on their recommendation as part of Thursday’s markup.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) would receive $2 billion from Senate Appropriators, $335.6 million above FY ’19 levels, the same as House Appropriators recommend. Cyber security funding would be $1 billion, $350 million more than requested, and includes $129 million more than FY ’19 for federal network security.
State and local governments would receive $24.1 million to enhance the security and resilience of their elections infrastructure.
The Senate bill would also provide $142.1 million for the Transportation Security Administration to acquire 237 computed tomography (CT) machines to scan carry-on bags at airport checkpoints, plus $49.8 million for 83 CT units through the Aviation Security Capital Fund. The bill also provides $21 million to develop improved CT detection algorithms.
House Appropriators are proposing $176 million for 365 CT checkpoint systems. Earlier this year, TSA awarded Smiths Detection a $97 million contract to provide 300 checkpoint CT systems. The agency expects to award another contract next year and could add another contractor to the mix. The low-price bid by Smiths took its competitors and TSA by surprise.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would receive $18.1 billion in total discretionary spending in the Senate bill, $3.2 billion more than enacted in FY ’19 due to the proposed wall spending. The bill would also provide $98.8 million to CBP for border security technology, $127 million for small-scale non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems to help detect narcotics, and $59.1 million for larger-NII systems used to scan vehicles at ports of entry.
The administration requested $70.6 million for NII equipment.
Like House appropriators, the Senate bill would also add funding to buy three Multirole Enforcement Aircraft, one more than requested. Sierra Nevada Corp. is providing the aircraft to CBP.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement would receive $8.4 billion in discretionary spending in the Senate bill, $780 million more than provided in FY ’19. Senate Democrats object to an increase in detection beds.
The Science and Technology Directorate would receive $710.4 million in the bill, $128 million above the request. The increase restores funding for University Center of Excellence and operation of laboratories. The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office would receive $424.7 million, $1.5 million more than requested and $10 million less than appropriated in FY ’19.
While Senate Republicans and Democrats have vast differences over proposed spending on a border wall and some provisions for ICE, the rest of the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support.
“This bill funds critical national and homeland security priorities including cyber security, Coast Guard readiness, and disaster relief,” Tester said.