Congress Keeps the Government Open
By Heather Ham-Warren | FAIR Take | December 2019
Last week, Congress approved $1.4 trillion in appropriations to prevent a federal government shutdown before the holidays. The twelve appropriations bills—split into two large packages— were passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday afternoon. As far as deals go, it could have been better, but it also could have been a lot worse.
Congress passed a short-term deal earlier in the year, but appeared poised for a Christmastime shutdown as Republicans and Democrats disagreed (yet again) on border wall funding. The White House requested $8.6 billion to build new barriers and reinvigorate existing structures, while congressional Democrats wanted to provide no funding for a wall at all. The final package included $1.375 billion for barrier funding, which was the same amount of funding as allocated last year.
In a win for Republicans, the legislation does not prohibit the administration from transferring funds for the wall, a move the administration used last fiscal year. However, it also does not replenish the $3.6 billion that the administration took this year from various military construction projects.
Throughout the appropriations cycle, representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) outlined their priorities before Congress for immigration-related requests, including increasing funding for technology updates and eliminating funding for sanctuary jurisdictions. However, the final funding levels remained unvaried for both agencies. The legislation also contains language used in previous years, which gives the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discretionary authority regarding an H-2B visa cap increase, stating that if the visa cap is met, DHS may release an additional 69,320 visas.
Obviously, not everyone is thrilled with the outcome or the process, but there are members from both sides of the aisle touting passage as a win:
“With this bill, we have lived up to that promise by making historic investments For the People,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-New York), “I am so proud that we are able to do so much good for children and families across the country and around the world.”
“It’s a huge win if you look at it from the totality of the circumstances,” said Representative Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tennessee), “Getting the $1.4 billion [for the wall] from the appropriations process was a continued win, but the real key victory to this agreement, and the hard thing that we had to persuade the Democrats to finally agree to, was to give the administration the ability to reprogram funds as they see fit and also where they see fit.”
Unrelated to immigration, the package also changes the minimum age for cigarette and other tobacco purchases to 21 from the current 18; includes $425 million in additional federal grants to help local governments prepare for the November 2020 elections; includes $7.6 billion for conducting next year’s census; includes $25 million for federal gun violence research; and repeals several taxes originally created to help fund Obamacare (including the infamous Cadillac tax).