House and Senate conferees for the FY19 Homeland Security appropriations conference met this week to begin their negotiations. Congress has two weeks left to pass a spending bill to avoid another partial shutdown. Senate conferees include Sens. Shelby (R-AL), Moore Capito (R-WV), Hoeven (R-ND), Blunt (R-MO), Leahy (D-VT), Durbin (D-IL), and Tester (D-MT). House conferees include: Reps. Lowey (D-NY), Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Price (D-NC), Lee (D-CA), Cuellar (D-TX), Aguilar (D-CA), Granger (R-TX), Fleischmann (R-TN), Graves (R-GA), and Palazzo (R-MS).
The conference committee is tasked with deciding a way forward on Homeland Security funding. Both sides expressed optimism about reaching a compromise, though there has been little budging in positions so far.
House Democrats released a list of their proposals for border security that they intend to advocate for in the conference committee. Their proposal indicated that they are willing to spend more on border security but that they don’t plan to use emergency funding to get around the budget caps for FY19. The Democrat proposal also made no mention of funding for new physical barriers or a wall. It also restricts where approved funding for barriers can be built.
On the other side of the negotiating table, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), in his opening remarks on Wednesday, advocated for an approach that includes technology, infrastructure, personnel, and physical barriers. Shelby said that “Smart technology alone does not actually stop anyone from crossing into the U.S. illegally.”
There is still some discussion about making the deal bigger than just funding for border security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he would have no concerns about conferees expanding the scope of the discussion if they need to get an agreement. The expanded scope could include the debt ceiling and FY20 and FY21 budget caps. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley (R-IA) wants to attach a tax extenders package renewing 26 expired tax breaks to any final spending deal.Outside of the conference negotiation room, President Trump was tweeting that if the final agreement did not include funding for a wall or physical barrier that “they are [w]asting their time!” The President also said that there is a good chance that he will declare a national emergency at the southern border in order to use Department of Defense dollars for a wall. He may announce this emergency declaration during his State of the Union address Tuesday evening.