5 sticking points in the fight to avert a shutdown

Lawmakers are racing to reach an agreement on the final six full-year government funding bills, but they face a list of hurdles as they barrel toward a shutdown deadline Friday.

The divided Congress just finished work on its first batch of funding bills for fiscal 2024 last week. But some negotiators see the tranche coming down the pike — which covers agencies like the departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) — as their toughest yet.

Here are five spending fights to watch as negotiations continue.

Homeland Security

Negotiators on both sides of the aisle see the annual Homeland Security funding bill as the hardest of the bunch lawmakers are hoping to pass next week.

Partisan divides on border and immigration — hot button issues heading into the November elections — makes the bill particularly tricky.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told The Hill on Tuesday that the DHS funding bill is “the most challenging one,” while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said “Homeland is absolutely the toughest” of the six outstanding bills.

Some are already concerned lawmakers may need to pass a stopgap measure to buy more time to negotiate the measure as Republicans press for border wall construction and the revival of the controversial “remain in Mexico” policy.

Pressed on the likelihood of another stopgap, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), chair of the subcommittee that crafts the annual funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, told The Hill earlier this week: “We’re going to continue to meet.”

“We’ll get there eventually. It’s just dollars and cents at the moment.”

Last month, Joyce discussed some of the difficulty appropriators faced in trying to craft the DHS funding bill.

“Some of the dollars that we were appropriated are going to [securing] the border, more detention beds, better use of technology, while Democrats have leaned more towards [nongovernmental organizations] and facilitating processing folks at the border and asylum claims,” he said at the time. “Therein lies a little bit of a dilemma.”


Last week’s passage of the first batch of funding bills shined a light on deep divides among Republicans in both chambers on members’ use of earmarked dollars for community projects back home.

Some GOP negotiators say the matter has already emerged as an issue for the next round of legislation, particularly around the annual HHS funding bill, which also covers money for the departments of Labor and Education.

“Democrats in the Senate have earmarks and Republicans, we don’t have any on our side,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a spending cardinal, told The Hill last week. “We passed a rule that did not allow it, and that makes it very difficult because there’s nothing to trade back and forth, and some of the Democratic earmarks tend to be more liberal than some of our members would like.”

Conservatives in the Senate last week threatened to hold up the so-called minibus containing the first six funding bills over their objections to the nearly 6,000 earmarks, among other issues they had with the legislation.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who chairs the House subcommittee that crafts annual HHS funding, told The Hill this week that some issues Republicans have regarding the earmarks touch on areas like “hormone therapy.”

However, Democrats have pushed back strongly against GOP-led efforts targeting earmarks, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who heads the same subcommittee in the Senate.

“The ground rules are that you don’t mess with congressionally directed spending,” Baldwin said. “We don’t want to get to a position in the future where people work really hard to secure funding for well-vetted community projects and other senators are plucking them out.”


Republicans have been doubling down on calls to block further funding to a key Palestinian relief agency amid allegations that some of its staffers took part in Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel last October.

Negotiators say the issue has emerged as a major sticking point in bipartisan talks around the annual State Department funding bill, which allows for funding for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA.

Democrats have signaled openness to new conditions on money for the agency. But many have rejected calls to block funding altogether, arguing there are no alternatives that have the same capacity to provide aid to Gaza, where almost 2 million people have been displaced.

At the same time, prominent Republicans are lining up against the funding.

In remarks from the floor on Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), top Republican on the Senate subcommittee that oversees State Department funding, vowed not to support any bill that includes further funding.

“There will not be one dime for UNRWA in any bill I support, period,” Graham said.

Election security

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), head of the House subcommittee that handles the annual funding bill for financial services and general government (FSGG), said election security remains among the sticking points threatening the forthcoming bill.

House Republicans pushed to eliminate funding for election security grants as part of a partisan proposal last year, but Senate negotiators called for $75 million for the item in an initial proposal that passed out of committee with bipartisan support in the summer.

Pressed about the issue on Thursday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a spending cardinal for the FSGG appropriations subcommittee, said negotiators are “still trying to finalize a lot of the funding pieces.”

Other areas Womack also said have been tough to find consensus on in the subcommittee’s funding talks include the IRS and FBI.

“There [is] some language that we wanted in these bills, and we’re still negotiating,” he said. “So there’s some unresolved issues for sure.”

Lawmaker pay

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), chair of the subcommittee that produces the annual legislative branch funding bill, also said he’s been pressing for a vote that could allow a pay raise for members.

While he noted the legislative branch funding bill passed by House Republicans last year upheld a years-long prohibition on annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), he told The Hill weeks back that “members want a chance to vote on a COLA.”

“If you think it’s kryptonite politically, then vote against it,” he said. “And if you love the 27th Amendment, or you’re tired of 13 years with no [pay], then vote for it and defend it with your constituents.”

However, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who heads the same subcommittee in the upper chamber, seemed to cast doubt on the effort’s chances of success on Thursday.

“I don’t think so at this juncture,” Reed told The Hill when pressed about the likelihood of potential changes in that area in the coming bill. “And constitutionally, it won’t take effect for the next Congress anyway.”

“But we’ll see. I mean, that’s one of the issues that’s been hopping around,” Reed added.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.