Republicans on Capitol Hill are urging President Trump to support a bipartisan agreement to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and several other government agencies before time runs out Feb. 15. However, the bill’s specific language relating to Coast Guard procurement funds and border technology remains relatively unknown.
Leaders of a joint conference committee appointed to resolve the funding issues that led to a partial government shutdown in December announced that they had reached an agreement Monday evening that could pass both chambers. Senate leaders of both parties lauded the bill on Tuesday, and many Republican members said they would urge Trump to sign the bill if it passes by Friday, the current funding deadline.
The new bill will include $1.375 billion for physical barrier construction along the U.S.-Mexico border, billions less than the $5.7 billion originally demanded by Trump but more than House Democrats said they were willing to issue in an earlier proposal. House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chair Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) said in January that no funding for physical barriers was included in an initial proposal (Defense Daily, Jan. 30).
It also allows for 55 new miles of bollard fencing, fewer than the miles provided in the Senate’s bipartisan FY ‘19 DHS bill, and the language will stipulate that fencing is restricted to currently deployed designs, according to a congressional aide.
House Democrats retreated on their stipulation that the bill include a cap on detention beds managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and instead “Provides a glide path to reduce ICE detention beds from 49,057 today to 40,520 at the end of the fiscal year,” according to the aide. This funding level will bring ICE back to the level of average daily population funded in the FY ’18 omnibus bill.
The amount of funding allocated to the Coast Guard’s procurement of its new heavy icebreaker under the Polar Security Cutter program is not currently known, but Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a homeland security conferee and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, told reporters he believed the bill would sufficiently fund the program. House Democrats included over $12 billion in Coast Guard funding in their opening offer, with $824 million of that devoted to the Polar Security Cutter program.
Senate Republicans were largely supportive of the bill, but said they still wanted to review the actual text when it is released.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, told reporters lawmakers outside of the negotiations have yet to see funding line items, such as for port of entry technology. “Everything seems to be waiting on the final text to be finalized, so we can all get it and go through it,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would encourage Trump to sign the bill, if the language turns out the way it had been sold to Republicans.
“One of the things that happens around here is you reach an agreement and then the deal has to actually be put on paper,” he said Tuesday. “I have recommended that if it becomes what we think it is, I do recommend he sign it.”
The president “has got a pretty good deal here,” McConnell added, noting the Democrats’ two concessions on border barrier funding and a cap on ICE detention beds. “I think he’s done just fine.”
Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Todd Young (R-Ind.) said, “there’s a lot that I’ve heard that I like” in the bill, and commended the Republican negotiators for “getting some movement on the other side.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as the defense appropriations (SAC-D) subcommittee, said Tuesday that the border wall funding is “a down payment.”
“We’re going to build the structures, we’re going to bring the technology, we’re going to bring the people and we’re going to secure America,” he said.
Some Senate Republicans noted Tuesday that Trump does have the power to call for a national emergency and reprogram funds to make up the gap in border barrier funds.
“The president has got power to reprogram some of this money, we have always known that,” Shelby said. “Let’s see what he does with it and use it.”
Appropriations committee staffers said the bill’s language could be available by Wednesday. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the homeland security conference committee, said the bill would likely be filed Wednesday night, then put up for a vote in the House before coming to the Senate floor.
He noted that some logistical issues could cause problems, as many House members were out of office for former Democratic Michigan Rep. John D. Dingell’s funeral Tuesday, and more are expected to attend Rep. Walter B. Jones’ (R-N.C.)’s funeral, set for Thursday in Greenville, North Carolina. Dingell, who retired from Congress in 2015, died Feb. 7 at age 92. Jones passed away Feb. 10 at age 76 (Defense Daily, Feb. 11).
Democratic leaders also expressed confidence and satisfaction in the bill’s future success Tuesday.
“Will everybody vote for it? No,” Leahy said. “Will the majority vote for it? Yes.”
Tester added: “We have ended up with something that I think can pass the House, can pass the Senate, and something the president should pass that deals with border security, humanitarian aid, making sure we have the technology and the manpower of force to be able to make sure this country is secure.”