The border deal: What made it in, what got left out

Greg Nash

Lawmakers on Wednesday night introduced a 1,159-page bill to fund a quarter of the federal government and prevent another partial shutdown.

The legislation wraps together seven appropriations bills, including the high-profile Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding, and is packed with priorities for both parties.

{mosads}But with the clock ticking — both chambers need to pass the measure and have President Trump sign it before Saturday — negotiators also left out several issues that staffers and lawmakers were haggling over right up until the bill was introduced.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday afternoon, followed by the House on Thursday evening.

Here’s what’s in the bill, and what didn’t make it in.


Barrier money

The funding deal includes $1.375 billion for physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border — well below the $5.7 billion requested by Trump and less than the $1.6 billion included in a previous Senate bill for DHS funding.

Republicans have touted the new funding level as a “down payment” on the president’s proposed border wall. The money will allow for roughly 55 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley sector: 11 miles of levee pedestrian fencing and 44 miles of primary pedestrian fencing.

The measure places restrictions on where, and what kind of, fencing can be built, limiting it to types of barriers already in use.

It also prohibits using fiscal 2019 or previous years’ funding for constructing pedestrian fencing in the Santa Ana Refuge, La Lomita Historical Park, Bentsen-Rio State Park, National Butterfly Center, the Vista del Mar and other points east in Texas.

The legislation includes $100 million for technology associated with the barriers, plus $564 million for scanning vehicles crossing at ports of entry.

Detention beds

The legislation aims to reduce the number of detention beds from the current level of 49,060 to last year’s amount of 40,520.

But Republicans argue that the administration will have the ability to move as much as $750 million of funds around from DHS operations to increase the number of beds, a move Democrats say would test legal boundaries and pull funds from other national security priorities.

Republicans say that flexibility will allow for increasing the bed count to as high as 58,000.

Family separation and detention facilities

The legislation and supporting documents filed on Wednesday night include several provisions tied to the administration’s detention and family separation policies.

According to a summary of the bill, the measure would prohibit DHS from blocking lawmakers from “entering any facility that is used to detain or otherwise house children” or making changes “to the current operations and facility conditions in anticipation of a congressional oversight visit.”

Lawmakers like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have said they were denied entry to detention facilities.

A statement submitted by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) on behalf of the conference committee explaining the funding agreement said the bill directs DHS to ensure migrant families are “reunited and transferred together” before they are removed from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill, according to the statement submitted by Lowey, would also encourage CBP to detain siblings in the same facility. It also would prevent pregnant women in DHS custody from being placed in restraints “except in extraordinary circumstances.”


Contractor back pay

Back pay for federal contractors impacted by the recent 35-day government shutdown was left out of the funding deal.

Democrats and outside groups said they were working as late as Wednesday evening to get the payments included in the agreement.

While federal workers impacted by the longest shutdown in U.S. history received their paychecks after the government reopened on Jan. 25, contractors did not.

The push to include back pay for contractors ran into GOP opposition from high-profile members of leadership and appropriators. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also said he had been told Trump wouldn’t sign a measure that included the provision.

VAWA extension

A months-long extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes protections for domestic violence survivors, was left out of the deal. The program expired late last year and Congress has been including short-term extensions of it in stopgap bills, including the continuing resolution (CR) that is set to expire on Friday night.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed Democrats on Thursday morning for the VAWA extension omission, saying he was “frustrated by House Democrats’ cynical opposition to include common-sense extensions of the Violence Against Women Act and other important things.”

Democrats introduced legislation last year that would expand VAWA and extend it for five years.

Disaster money

While the bill includes a regular annual top-off to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, to the tune of $12 billion, it left out a package of relief for major disasters from the past few years, like the wildfires in California and hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.

Last year, the GOP-controlled House passed a $7.8 billion package of emergency relief as part of a spending bill that never became law. Once Democrats took over the House, they passed a $12.1 billion bill, which also has not made it to the president’s desk.

The main point of contention is over block grants and other forms of additional disaster aid for Puerto Rico.

Trump’s budget cuts

The Homeland Security appropriations bill was one of seven bills in the legislative package, which also covered transportation, State Department and foreign operations and agriculture, among others.

Across the board, Congress rejected deep, draconian cuts that Trump had proposed for nondefense programs he had asked to eliminate or cut.

An overview of the legislative package cites 84 instances were Congress allocated funds above the president’s budget request, for areas such as foreign aid, agricultural research, rural infrastructure, nutritional programs and climate research.

Only four areas have funding below the White House budget request.

Tags border deal border wall funding Donald Trump Jeff Merkley Mitch McConnell Nita Lowey Roy Blunt Trump administration family separation policy Violence Against Women Act

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