Johnson touts border funding, Covid cuts as Congress leans closer toward shutdown deadline

Speaker Mike Johnson is trying to appease his right flank on the unfinalized spending package, using a weekly closed-door GOP meeting on Wednesday morning to champion Republican wins.

In the meeting, Johnson highlighted a boost in detention beds for handling a migration surge at the southern border, billions of dollars in cuts to pandemic-era programs, longstanding anti-abortion rules, measures to limit diversity programs and more.

That will likely do little to assuage the concerns of House conservatives, who have already soured on the six-bill spending bundle before its release. They haven’t raised an attempt to boot Johnson from the speakership over the funding bills, but the lack of legislative text combined with a shutdown deadline on Friday is further irritating those rebellious members.

“You don’t need 72 hours to decide you’re going to vote for some 2,000 pages?” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “If you’re saying you plan to vote for the bill, and you don’t need 72 hours — you’ll just vote for anything, no matter what’s in there, or what’s not in there, you’re going to vote for it? That’s very concerning.”

Congressional staff are racing to finalize the legislative text of the enormous fiscal 2024 funding package, which is expected to top $1 trillion and covers around 70 percent of federal spending. Congressional leaders are hoping to clear the legislation by Friday, which means Johnson will need to waive a rule that says lawmakers get 72 hours to review text before a vote.

Several Republicans coming out of the closed-door conference meeting said they expect Johnson to ditch that rule, confirming that a vote is likely on Friday. Johnson will have to pass the package under suspension, requiring a two-thirds vote threshold and substantial support from Democrats. And that would leave little time for the Senate to process the package before the deadline.

Some lawmakers are calling for yet another short stopgap bill — which would be the fifth so-called continuing resolution this fiscal year — to buy more time to process the package. Johnson told reporters Wednesday that he didn’t expect to resort to another stopgap, however.

Here are some of the highlights Johnson touted from the not-yet-final package:

Defense 

Increases military funding by $27 billion, including a 5.2 percent pay raise for troops.
Cuts funding for climate change efforts within the Department of Defense.
Essentially bars the Pentagon from mandating Covid vaccines.
Cuts funding for diversity and inclusion programs to spending levels signed into law three years ago.
Bars money from going to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists conducted coronavirus research in the city where Covid first emerged. The Biden administration released intelligence on the lab last year, acknowledging that researchers there fell ill in the fall of 2019, shortly before the pandemic began.

Homeland Security 

Increases immigration detention capacity to 42,000 people Immigration and Customs Enforcement can hold at one time. That’s an increase of about 24 percent from the current detention-bed capacity of 34,000.
Provides enough funding for the Border Patrol to have 22,000 agents. That’s the same level House Republicans approved in H.R. 2, the immigration and border security measure they passed last year and have been calling on the Senate to clear for President Joe Biden’s signature.
Increases funding for technology to monitor U.S. borders by 25 percent.
Cuts funding for non-profit groups and faith-based organizations that provide shelter and other resources to undocumented immigrants crossing the border into the U.S.

State-Foreign Operations 

Cuts funding for the State Department and foreign operations by 6 percent.
Prohibits any flags except the American flag from being flown at U.S. diplomatic facilities.
Maintains current prohibitions on federal funding going to groups that perform abortions or provide abortion counseling.
Bars federal money from going to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Members of the Palestinian aid group have been accused of collaborating with Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Over the weekend, Sen.
Chris Van Hollen
(D-Md.) called those accusations “a flat-out lie.”

Financial Services 

Implements a more than $10 billion cut to the IRS.
Cuts funding by more than $2 billion for Covid-related efforts.
Prevents the Biden administration from banning gas stoves.
Bars funding from being used to cover abortions in federal programs, as well as local programs in the District of Columbia.

Labor-HHS-Education 

Decreases funding by more than $4 billion for Covid-related efforts.
Maintains the half-century ban on federal funding for abortions, known as the Hyde amendment.

What’s next: Appropriators fear text for the six-bill funding bundle could be delayed until Thursday, pushing Congress dangerously close to the deadline and increasing the risk of a brief shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that “even with bipartisanship, it’s going to be a tight squeeze to get this funding package passed before the weekend deadline.” He’ll need agreement from all 100 senators to process the package before the deadline.

“I ask my colleagues to be flexible,” Schumer added, “to be prepared to act quickly and to prioritize working together in good faith so we can finish the appropriations process.”

Conservatives, who were never likely to vote for the bill in the first place, are complaining about the rushed timeline.

“I don’t think Republicans should be jamming through a bill that we have less than 72 hours to read and doesn’t do the job on the border,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). “There is no reason why any Texan or anyone in the Republican conference should vote for this bill.”

Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democratic appropriator in the House, said she remains hopeful that the House and Senate will act swiftly before the weekend.

“I’m very optimistic there won’t be a shutdown,” DeLauro said.

The legislation would fund the Pentagon, major health programs, the Department of Homeland Security, foreign aid programs, the IRS and more through Sept. 30, the remainder of the fiscal year.

Jordain Carney and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.