It’s official: both the House and the Senate have passed a border security deal that’s now headed to the President’s desk. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said that Trump will sign the deal and narrowly avert another government shutdown by doing so. Trump is also expected to declare a national emergency in order to obtain funding for his border wall.
Congressional lawmakers on Wednesday released the legislative text, which was put together by a special committee designated to figuring out a compromise on Homeland Security funding in the wake of a 35-day shutdown.
It doesn’t include any money for a concrete wall, though it does include $1.375 billion for physical barriers, funds which can be used for “bollard fencing.”
As Vox’s Dara Lind has previously explained, “bollard fencing” is made up of a series of “steel poles, erected close enough together to prevent entry but far enough apart that Border Patrol agents can see what’s happening on the other side.” It’s effectively the same as the “steel slats” that Trump has been touting interchangeably with a wall in recent months.
As a result, this agreement enables Democrats to say that they haven’t given in to Trump’s demands for a wall, while enabling Republicans to argue that they’ve provided Trump a “down payment” for the barriers he’s interested in building.
According to a congressional Democratic aide, the deal explicitly prohibits the use of this money on a concrete wall, and only authorizes funds for “existing technologies,” like the current fencing along the southern border. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby, meanwhile, tweeted that he felt this agreement offered Trump a “down payment on his border wall.”
I just talked to the President, and he was in good spirits. I told him that I just signed the homeland security conference report and that it’s a down payment on his border wall. This is only the beginning of a multi-year effort.
— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) February 14, 2019
While both sides are striving to frame the spending package in their favor, the amount of barrier funding in the bill is widely seen as a success for Democrats, especially since it’s actually less than what a bipartisan Senate offer included for fencing last year and far less than the $5.7 billion Trump had previously requested.
The spending package covers 9 federal departments
Border security and DHS funding may have been the main sticking point in this spending package, but the ultimate 1,159-page bill covers nine federal departments and funds them through the end of September. The departments it funds include the Transportation Department, the Agriculture Department, and the State Department, along with key agencies like the IRS.
In addition to laying out funding for 55 miles of physical barriers, the legislation allocates $1.7 billion for other border security priorities. These funds include $564 million for equipment to detect contraband at ports of entry, $100 million for surveillance technology along the southern border, and $414 million to address humanitarian border needs.
Democrats have long pushed for a border security solution that centers heavily on technology, along with physical barriers, since the overwhelming majority of contraband drugs are flowing through ports of entry.
Democrats also argue that this spending package would reduce the number of ICE detention beds from 49,057 to 40,520 by the end of 2019, though it does not include a cap on the number of detention beds that can be used for interior enforcement. Republicans, however, say the funding in the DHS bill could be used to maintain or increase the number of detention beds.
Along with these border security updates, some of the other funding increases the broader bill contains include an additional $1 billion for the 2020 Census, $1.2 billion dedicated to infrastructure construction, and $30 million to address the opioid crisis. The legislation also provides a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal workers.
What comes next
In addition to signing the border security deal, Trump is also planning to declare a national emergency, according to McConnell. His plans to do so would enable him to tap into funding previously allocated for natural disaster relief and military construction projects, though it’s expected to prompt legal challenges.
Republicans have also worried that such efforts would set up a precedent for Democrats to declare national emergencies in order to obtain funding for their policy priorities in the future.
Trump has decided to sign the spending bill and declare a national emergency in order to both avert another shutdown and claim that he’s won on funding for his border wall.
It remains to be seen just how effective this tactic will be for achieving his ultimate goals.