Homeland security battle pushes much of government perilously close to Saturday shutdown

President Joe Biden’s late-stage bid to save the Department of Homeland Security from a flat budget is pushing Congress perilously close to a Saturday shutdown of most of the federal government.

Heading into the November election, Biden is under increasing pressure to counter Republican attacks that his administration is failing to address spiking migration at the southern border, particularly as officials anticipate a spring surge with warmer weather. The Homeland Security spending bill likely represents the last chance for congressional leaders and the White House to boost budgets for border security and related matters following last month’s collapse of a bipartisan immigration deal in the Senate.

Which means the stakes are high for the current impasse over the DHS budget as funding for more than 70 percent of the federal government is set to expire at week’s end, including military and foreign operations spending, plus federal health, education and housing programs.

Top lawmakers have considered endgame negotiations on the Homeland Security funding bill as perhaps the most troublesome in the entire package ever since Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan border and foreign aid deal. Thanks to funding limits set by last summer’s bipartisan debt package, Congress is working with very little extra money and competing priorities when it comes to border personnel, security, humanitarian needs and more.

“Republicans had their chance to write immigration policy. They threw it out the window. So we’re not going to write immigration policy on an appropriations bill,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), leader of the subpanel in charge of Homeland Security funding, said last week.

Thanks to an eleventh-hour push by the White House, negotiators are now speeding to save DHS from stagnant funding through the rest of the fiscal year. Lawmakers had initially accepted that fallback option in the interest of closing out talks on the most contentious spending bill in Congress’ second six-bill bundle to fund the government. But the Biden administration pushed back, arguing that a stopgap funding patch would hamstring agencies already struggling to address migration on the southern border.

The prolonged talks mean that House and Senate votes on any spending agreement will likely get pushed to Friday — leaving little room for delay in both chambers where things can easily go off the rails, right up against the partial shutdown deadline.

Besides the DHS funding bill, the five other measures in the package have been finalized. But the entire spending package is expected to hinge on the fate of the border and immigration negotiations, since it is politically unworkable to try to pass the homeland security bill on its own once the military and key non-defense agencies are fully funded.

Further increasing pressure on top lawmakers to wrap up funding negotiations: Both the House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn on Friday for a two-week recess. Conservatives complain that aligning the government shutdown deadline with that scheduled departure is a typical ploy to force agreement on a massive funding package that will be unveiled late.

“It shouldn’t be lost on anyone,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), “that they set this up in that way to create this sort of contrived emergency, against which they want the ability to message against anyone expressing concerns about the bill of desiring a shutdown, which is completely disingenuous and wildly unprofessional.”

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

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