Congress Announces Last-Minute Deal to Avoid Government Shutdown Amid Homeland Security Standoff

By: Alyssa Miller | Last updated: Mar 21, 2024

On Tuesday morning, congressional leaders reached a deal to fund the government before its weekend deadline. This close call comes thanks to a resolution about the Department of Homeland Security funding.

“House and Senate committees have begun drafting bill text to be prepared for release and consideration by the full House and Senate as soon as possible,” Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La, said.

Approving the Funding Bills

On Saturday morning, funding for the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Labor, and Health and Human Services, along with other agencies, will expire. By the end of last week, Congress settled five funding bills.

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However, the Homeland Security bill presented a challenge between the parties in Congress, leading to revisions that pushed against an already tight deadline.


Why Was DHS a Problem Spot for Congress? 

Sources familiar with the negotiations told NBC News that the funding bill for Homeland Security became a point of contention as Democrats wanted to spend money to improve border security and enforcement money.

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Republicans wanted to reprioritize DHS funds toward the “agency’s core mission,” which could mean focusing on terrorism, securing borders, immigration law, and safeguarding cyber systems. Unfortunately, there was no elaboration on what the “agency’s core mission” means to the party.

The Government Would Only Partially Shutdown

Congress passed the first position of bills, which included six appropriations bills, earlier this month. This funding helped avoid a partial government shutdown in case some bills, like the DHS bill, do not pass through Congress and the Senate in time.

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The main point of conflict in the bills has been immigration. Republicans have pushed back against bills for this reason.

The Freedom Caucus Is Proving to Be a Problem

On Monday, two leaders of the far-right Freedom Caucus, Reps. Bob Good, R-Va., and Chip Roy, R-Tx, presented a letter that demanded change to the DHS funding bill before agreeing to approve it.

Congressman Bob Good standing in front of a white background

Source: Congressman Bob Good/YouTube

Representing 41 Republicans, the letter stated that the bill needed to include “the core elements of H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act,” or Biden’s immigration policies won’t change.

Rejecting the Previous Funding Bill

“Therefore, we ask you to join us in rejecting the appropriations package (or anything similar) slated to be before the House that will directly fund these disastrous policies, and choose instead to stand against this assault on the American people,” they wrote.

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Congress seemed to anticipate this battle against far-right members expected to vote on the package.


Far-Right Members Are Creating a Headache for Congress Members

While the votes from the far-right members are not necessary to create the bipartisan coalition needed to pass the bill, those members can create headaches in Congress that could prolong a vote to move the bill up to the Senate floor.

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Congress has been dealing with these funding bills for nearly half a year. If it takes this long to approve funding to avoid a government shutdown, then drafting funding bills for the 2025 fiscal year by the end of September could be a challenge.


The Bill Needs to Move Quickly Before the Deadline

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said that negotiations between the White House and GOP were necessary to move the bill to the Senate before the Saturday deadline.

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“House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement in principle with respect to the six remaining fiscal year 2024 spending bills, following the completion of negotiations between the Biden administration and House Republicans related to the appropriation of Homeland Security funding,” he said.


Future Funding Becomes a Priority

Johnson believes that approving the bill for the DHS funding could allow Congress to finish funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September, and allow the group to focus on funding for 2025.

Speaker Mike Johnson talking into a microphone behind a podium

Source: Wikimedia Commons

While the DHS funding bill is a step in the right direction to avoid a government shutdown, the Senate and President Biden still need to approve the bill before Friday 11:59 pm E.T.


The Senate and Biden Still Need to Approve the Funding

It will be difficult for Congress to pass the spending package in time. Johnson announced that lawmakers have 72 hours to read the text before the vote. Although the funding bill still requires a vote, it has a long journey ahead before approval.

President Joe Biden talking into a microphone while standing in front of the stars of the American flag

Source: The White House/Rawpixel

The Senate will need to unanimously consent on the funding bill by the weekend. President Biden has said that he will sign the bill as soon as it makes it to his desk.


Congress Has to Vote ASAP

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., states that both chambers are now “in the process of finalizing text and reports for Congress to closely review and consider ASAP.”

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It appears that the negotiations, which have not yet revealed the details of this bill to the public, might satisfy the needs of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.


Funding Disputes Are Nothing New for Congress

A government shutdown seemed unavoidable in September 2023 when Democrats refused to consider the unacceptable conduct of the Freedom Caucus, which led to the vacating of the Speaker.

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Luckily, leaders of Congress, the Senate, and Biden were able to sign a short-term bill that kept the government open for a short period. The parties with a history of butting heads when passing bills hopefully can reach an agreement as quickly as they did when it came to the latest bill to ban TikTok in the U.S.