Nearly nine weeks after the government shut down, Congress has finally reached agreement — and cleared the path forward to pass — on a package that will clear the decks on spending battles, and most importantly, spending deadlines, until the end of September.
In the form of 1,169 pages, the full spending package — which is comprised not just of the border security agreement, but also the six remaining outstanding funding measures, is now public and ready to be voted on. House and Senate leaders believe they have plan to get that done in short order. At least that’s the plan.
Bottom line: The Senate and House plan to pass the border security and broad spending package by Thursday night. That much, according to aides and both parties, in both chambers, is virtually assured at this point. The question remains will President Donald Trump sign the deal, which, at least on Capitol Hill, everyone is working under the assumption he will. But as everyone should be well aware by now, nothing is final until the President puts pen to paper on the bill.
With that in mind, just a word of caution: This is a very large piece of legislation, released at midnight, less than a day before the final vote Thursday, with a Friday deadline.
There is something in here for everyone, particularly those in the White House, to dislike. The White House is still reviewing the final text, and there’s concern, as there always is at this point, that Trump will suddenly change course.
This is a high wire act rife with potential landmines. It could go seamlessly today. But history would say it almost certainly will not be that easy.
How the conference committee ended up
Of the 17 members of the bipartisan conference committee, 16 signed onto the final agreement. One member — Republican Rep. Tom Graves — chose not to sign the conference report.
This was his rationale, via Twitter with a photograph of the bill: “Here’s my first look at the final conference report and supporting language. A total of seven funding bills. With 30 minutes notice, I was allowed 1 hour to review and had to make a choice. I could not sign off.”
How it will all happen
In a shift, leaders in both parties decided late on Wednesday the Senate will go first on Thursday.
The package is technically in the form of a conference report, which isn’t amendable, so the process can technically move fairly quickly. It’s still to be determined whether senators will attempt to raise points of order to try and slow the process down, but the idea is to move fast once it’s officially taken up.
Stay tuned on the procedural machinations of the day — they still aren’t fully fleshed out as of Thursday morning. And always remember, in the Senate, a single senator can slow things down if that senator so pleases.
Once the Senate passes the package, it will move to the House.
The House Rules Committee will meet at some point day to set the parameters for the debate on the conference report. When lawmakers return from the funerals of former Rep. John Dingell and Rep. Walter Jones, they will move to vote on the rule, then debate the conference report, then vote to pass it.
Final passage is scheduled to occur Thursday evening.
After House passage, the package will be cleared for Trump’s signature. And then Congress will officially be on recess.
Fair warning: The plan in both chambers, on both sides of the aisle, is for the bill to be through Congress by Thursday night. But usually at some point something goes wrong — not to actually sink the bill, but to draw out its consideration. So just be aware that’s always a possibility.
Vote timing: With the above in mind, there will be a lot of speculation, guessing and slightly educated positing on when and ho the votes will happen Thursday. Please tune most of that out and just listen to the Hill team for guidance — we’ll let you know what’s happening as soon as it is set, we promise.
The temperature: Lawmakers and aides in both chambers grew increasingly confident as Wednesday went on that not only were the votes there to pass the package in both chambers, but it would pass pretty comfortably.
“We’re in good shape,” a House Democratic aide said Wednesday night.
“Better than I thought we’d be, though still have to wait for POTUS,” a senior House GOP said.
“Good to go,” a Senate Republican aide said Thursday morning.
“Our guys are good,” a Senate Democratic aide said.
Closed door conference meetings on the House side yielded some objections, but nothing that could scuttle the bill, aides said.
The jet fumes
It’s tough to overstate how eager senators are to get out of town. There’s hardly been a full Congressional recess since July of last year, and certainly not since the midterm elections (though most went home for the holidays, the government was still shutdown during that period). There are 2020 presidential candidates that want to be in Iowa and New Hampshire. There are multiple senators who are scheduled to leave Thursday night for the Munich Security Conference, which begins Friday.
Will POTUS actually sign the bill?
CNN’s Dana Bash reported Wednesday morning Trump was telling people he was inclined to sign the measure. House GOP leaders told their members on Wednesday they expected the President to sign the bill.
The President himself didn’t go that far, saying he wanted to review the text and ensure there were no “landmines.”
Trump did appear to lean toward signing the agreement when he said this, however: “I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing,”
And Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who has been tasked as the congressional GOP point person on briefing the President on the deal, tweeted Wednesday night that he had just spoken to the President about the deal and Trump “was in good spirits.”
What’s in the border security agreement
- $1.375 billion for border barriers
- Prohibitions on use of concrete wall or other prototypes that are not already in use for fencing and barriers
- In total, the bill funds 55 miles of new barriers
- The new barriers will be targeted for the Rio Grande Valley sector
- Restrictions on physical barriers in the following locations: Santa Ana Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio State Park, National Butterfly Center, Vista del Mar
- Funding for an average 45,274 detention beds per day (with intent to return to 40,520 by the end of the fiscal year, which is the level funded in the last fiscal year. Currently ICE is utilizing approximately 49,000 detention beds)
- No cap on interior detention beds
- No restrictions, beyond funding, on overall detention beds
Border security funding:
- $564 million for ports-of-entry inspection equipment
- $191 million for ports-of-entry construction
- $100 million for new technology
- $127 million for aircraft and marine assets
- Funding for 600 new customs officers
- Funding for 200 additional border patrol agents over the last fiscal year level
- $414 million in humanitarian aid for the border, in the form of enhanced medical support, transportation, food and clothing for migrants in detention
- Funds additional detention facility inspectors to bring facility inspections to twice a year, up from once every three years
- $527 million for humanitarian assistance to Central America to deal with migrant crisis (this is separate from the border security deal, but is included in the package in the State and Foreign Ops spending measure)
- Funding for 75 new immigration judges
- $7.4 million for additional attorneys and for courtroom expansion to assist in the backlog of immigration cases currently in the system
- Requires ICE to report and make public information about numbers and makeup of individuals in custody, specifically family units, border apprehension detainees, interior enforcement detainees and those who have reported a positive federal credible fear claim
- Bars DHS from preventing a member of Congress from entering a facility used to detain or house children.
What didn’t get into the final package
Some of the sharpest disputes on Wednesday actually occurred around issues not in the spending bills or border security bills. Instead, they were over additions to the package — in the form of more than a dozen extension of priorities that will also expire on Friday.
In short, every one of those issues was dropped, and the primary reason was White House objection to the Democratic push to include backpay for federal contractors affected by the 35-day government shutdown.
So federal contractor back pay is out.
A clean extension of the Violence Against Women Act is also out. Republican pushed for the clean extension, which Democrats objected to on the grounds, according to two Democratic aides, that they would have more leverage to negotiate a broader reauthorization of VAWA outside the confines of the spending deal.
Democrats say the expiration of VAWA will have no tangible effect, as the program’s grants are funded through the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations measure that is included in the package. In other words, to be continued on the fight over the future shape of VAWA.
Also left out of the final agreement:
- An extension of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act
- An extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Postponement of the statutory pay-as-you-go sequester
If/when POTUS signs, then what
Every lawmaker and aide CNN has spoken to in the last 48 hours, regardless of party, is expecting Trump to take executive action to secure more money for the border barriers. The White House team has reported extensively on the options and possible timing for this. What the final form of that will be — and whether he’ll go as far as declare a national emergency — are still unknown on Capitol Hill, aides say — GOP leaders have not been informed of a specific plan by the White House. But everyone is fully expecting something to happen.