Border policy a key sticking point in Congress with shutdown deadline just days away

Mar 18, 2024, 3:10 PM | Updated: 6:06 pm

us capitol shown, government shutdown deadline approaching...

FILE - People walk outside the U.S Capitol building in Washington, June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(CNN) — Congressional leaders and the White House have yet to finalize a deal to keep much of the government open past Friday, increasing the chances of a shutdown for major agencies as soon as this weekend, according to sources involved in the talks.

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A big part of the challenge: funding for the Department of Homeland Security at a time when security at the southern border has become a central issue in the 2024 campaign.

The sticking point has created a high-stakes time crunch. Even if negotiators cut a deal on funding DHS, it will still take several days to move the massive measure through Congress.

Lawmakers were aiming to post bill text Sunday night, but now it’s increasingly likely that the language won’t be unveiled until Tuesday at the earliest.

After months of averting shutdowns at the eleventh hour with stopgap bills, Congress finally passed a package of six bills in early March to fund a slate of government agencies for the rest of the fiscal year – but the work isn’t over yet.

A number of key government operations still need to be funded by the end of the day on Friday, March 22, including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, State, and the legislative branch.

The current fiscal year began more than five months ago on October 1, 2023. Since then, lawmakers have faced a series of fiscal cliffs as a result of funding deadlines created by short-term extensions.

There are a number of challenges ahead.

Under House GOP rules, leadership needs 72 hours for their members to review bill text. That means lawmakers could be working through the weekend to pass the bills after the Friday deadline has already lapsed. Then, it would need consent of all 100 senators to quickly schedule a vote – something that can be extremely difficult, especially over funding legislation.

While government operations would halt if funding is not approved by the deadline, the damage would be minimal if a shutdown is only relegated to the weekend.

Two sources familiar with talks say that negotiators were prepared to move ahead over the weekend with a one-year stopgap measure to fund DHS, but the White House got involved late to try and push for a full-year spending bill. That has slowed down the talks, the sources said.

This DHS funding bill is always one of the most complicated to get across the finish line. Aides say work to fund other agencies including State, Education and Labor, HHS, Treasury and Defense are largely closed out.

In the House, Speaker Mike Johnson must navigate an extremely narrow majority and pushback from his right flank. Hardline conservatives have expressed anger over Johnson’s handling of the government spending fight – and the speaker needed to rely on both Republican and Democratic votes to pass the six-bill funding package earlier this month.

That package, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden, included funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, military construction and other federal programs.

Johnson was elected speaker last year after conservatives forced former Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his leadership post, raising questions over whether Johnson could face a similar threat to his speakership amid backlash from the far-right wing of his conference.

McCarthy’s historic and unprecedented ouster plunged House Republicans into a weeks-long period of intense turmoil as they struggled to elect a successor, and many Republicans do not want to see that scenario play out a second time.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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Border policy a key sticking point in Congress with shutdown deadline just days away