Democrat Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson have announced an agreement in principle on a $1.66 trillion total for spending to finance the federal government in fiscal year 2024, effectively implementing a controversial deal that was agreed to last June by then-GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden to prevent a government shutdown due to the federal deficit having reached the nation’s debt ceiling at that time.
Under that deal, Republicans agreed to the suspension of the nation’s debt limit in exchange for a Democrat agreement limiting discretionary federal spending to $1.59 trillion in fiscal year 2024, with no more than 1 percent of spending growth in 2025. Opposition to the deal by a small number of GOP conservatives who were demanding deeper federal spending cuts ultimately led to McCarthy’s ouster as Speaker in October.
The Schumer-Johnson agreement on total budget spending for 2024 and 2025 does not include Biden’s $110.5 billion emergency supplemental spending request for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, which he issued two weeks after the October 7 Hamas attack which killed 1200 Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Biden’s emergency national security package would provide $14.3 billion in new U.S. military aid for Israel, most of which would be used to replenish Israeli stocks of Iron Dome interceptor missiles which have been used to shoot down the rockets that Hamas has fired at populated areas of Israel since October 7.
Another $61.4 billion would be spent on military aid for Ukraine, half of which is needed to replenish the depleted U.S. military inventories which were drawn down on Biden’s orders to provide an immediate supply of arms and ammunition to Ukraine.
The Biden request also includes $2 billion to shore up the defenses of Taiwan and other U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region which are facing a fast-growing military threat from an increasingly belligerent communist China.
BIDEN ASKING FOR $13 BILLION FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
Biden’s emergency request also includes $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to those civilians impacted by the fighting in Israel, Gaza, and Ukraine, and to migrants illegally crossing the southern border with Mexico.
Most controversially, Biden is asking for $13.6 billion to hire more federal border patrol agents, asylum officers, and immigration judges to process the record number of illegal immigrants that his administration will continue to permit to cross the southern border and stay in the United States indefinitely.
Speaker Johnson responded to Biden’s emergency request by promptly getting House Republicans to pass a bill that provided only the $14 billion in emergency aid for Israel and proposed paying for it with the same amount of cuts to the money, that Republicans had opposed, for the hiring of additional IRS tax collection agents.
But Johnson was not willing to schedule a House vote on the additional money that Biden had requested for aid to Ukraine, or the hiring of additional federal border personnel, without a thorough congressional debate on U.S. goals in Ukraine as well as the measures required to prevent the massive amount of illegal immigration at the southern border.
As Johnson explained to CNN last week, when he joined sixty fellow Republican House members in a visit to the southern border, “What the White House is proposing is more money to process and allow more illegals into the country. We need to do the opposite of that … Listen to the deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol who was with us last night. He told us [that the flow of illegal immigrants is] ‘as if I’m at an open fire hydrant. I don’t need more buckets to dump the water. I need to turn the flow off.’”
Johnson and his fellow Republicans argue that the additional immigration money that Biden has requested has “little to do with actual border security and interior enforcement and more to do with processing illegal immigration into the interior as fast as possible,” making the problem even worse.
BIDEN ALREADY HAS THE AUTHORITY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
As Washington Examiner political correspondent, Byron York, explains it, “The problem seems clear: The president of the United States has to stop the flow. He could do that by not allowing those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of illegal crossers to remain in the U.S…. If they have an asylum claim to make, they can wait in Mexico while it is processed. If Biden were to do that, and he has the full authority to do so, word would get out very, very quickly, and the current firehose flow [of illegal immigrants] would become a trickle.
“But so far, the president has refused to act. He just wants more money to continue on his current disastrous course. And he has Democrats and many in the media seemingly on his side.”
Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Senate has been unwilling to consider the House-passed GOP bill providing emergency aid to Israel alone. However, aside from Iron Dome interceptor missiles, the Israeli military does seem to have adequate supplies of weapons and ammunition on hand to sustain its current operations in Gaza for an extended period, and to stage a full-scale attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon, if necessary.
BIDEN RUNNING OUT OF MONEY FOR UKRAINE
On the other hand, if Congress does not quickly authorize the additional military aid that Biden is requesting for Ukraine, U.S. shipments will stop, meaning that Ukraine will soon run short of the ammunition it needs to defend itself against the Russian invaders.
Speaker Johnson has admitted that it is unlikely that conservative House Republicans would be happy with any spending bill that would be acceptable to Senate Democrats. But it seems that Republican objections to President Biden’s lax border security policies are the single largest obstacle to breaking the partisan logjam holding up the 12 appropriations bills required to keep the federal government running until the end of this fiscal year, as well as Biden’s separate $110.5 billion emergency request to pay for the defense of Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan.
RECORD NUMBERS OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS NOW ARRIVING
Republicans are furious with President Biden and his Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, for refusing to enforce the existing federal laws against illegal immigration. In fact, according to Fox News, Mayorkas this week admitted to Border Patrol agents that the current rate of release for illegal immigrants apprehended at the southern border is “above 85%,” which helps to explain the current surge of immigrants from countries around the world storming the southern border.
The influx of illegal migrants crossing the southern border reached a new high in December, with the Border Patrol reporting the apprehension of 250,000 illegal immigrants, most of whom were permitted to stay in the United States.
There were more than 3.2 million illegal border crossings during Fiscal Year 2023, which ended on September 30, the most ever. That number only reflects those who were caught and apprehended by border officials, and does not include the untold numbers of “gotaways,” including terrorists, drug dealers, and human traffickers.
According to Lora Ries, who tracks illegal immigration statistics for the conservative Heritage Foundation, federal border protection officers have encountered more than 8.5 million illegal aliens since Biden took office in January 2021, most of whom have been released into the general population of the United States. Adding at least 1.7 million known “gotaways,” yields a total of 10.2 million illegal immigrants, equal to 3% of the U.S. population.
Even Democrat mayors of “sanctuary cities” such as New York, Chicago, Denver, and Washington D.C., are feeling the pressure from the surge of migrants now swamping their facilities for the homeless and urgently appealing for help from the Biden administration.
BIDEN’S POLICIES CREATED THE PROBLEM
This illegal immigration issue is clearly President Biden’s problem. Starting immediately upon his first day as president, he reversed nearly every policy that secured the border during the Trump years. These include border wall construction, deportations, and the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which ended the practice of “catch and release” for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally, and required them to wait in Mexico or their country of origin for their U.S. immigration court hearing.
At the same time, Biden administration officials have been publicly denying the existence of a crisis at the southern border, while falsely assuring the American people that the border is secure. But according to the polls, most Americans are not buying it, because each night they can see fresh video news clips of thousands of foreign nationals crossing the southern border illegally, en masse, with complete impunity.
The result is clear from multiple recent opinion polls on the American public’s attitude toward the illegal immigration issue. A Pew poll found that 73% of Americans thought it “very” or “somewhat” important to “increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border.” A CBS News poll taken in September showed 66% of Americans disapproving “of the way Joe Biden is handling immigration” and only 34% approving. A national Fox News poll showed 67% of respondents “support deporting those here illegally.” A CBS poll of likely Republican voters before the upcoming caucuses and primaries showed 80% of New Hampshire voters and 85% of Iowa voters “want a GOP nominee who’d deport millions of undocumented immigrants.” Clearly, the chaos at the southern border and who is responsible for it is already a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign.
BIDEN LOSING THE SUPPORT OF HISPANIC VOTERS
Even among Texas Hispanics, 40% surveyed “agreed with the idea of deporting undocumented immigrants.” Many of the many millions of Hispanics who went to the considerable trouble of entering this country legally, are deeply resentful of those Hispanic immigrants who decided to cut the line and cross the border illegally.
Many Hispanics also rightfully blame President Biden, because his refusal to enforce federal immigration laws effectively encourages more immigrants to cross our borders illegally.
A recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll shows Biden actually trailing the former President Donald Trump among Hispanic voters by 5 percentage points, 34% percent to 39%, whereas just 12 years ago, President Barack Obama garnered more than 70% of the Hispanic vote when running for a second term, like Biden, against GOP candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
The 63.7 million Hispanic Americans are now the largest ethnic minority group in the country, accounting for 19.1% of the total population, and they will inevitably have a major impact on the outcome of the presidential election.
THREE SENATORS WORKING ON A BIPARTISAN COMPROMISE
To address the root causes of the immigration crisis, Oklahoma GOP Senator James Lankford has been working for weeks with Arizona’s Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Connecticut’s Democrat Senator Chris Murphy on a package of immigration policy changes that would enable U.S. officials to better handle the large number of migrants who are illegally crossing the southern border, and satisfy Republican demands for changes to border law as a condition for supporting 2024 appropriation bills and the separate security funding bill for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.
In a weekend interview with Fox News, Senator Lankford said, “It [the border problem] does not get better by doing nothing. It gets better by doing something. Congress has to pass something, and after decades of doing nothing on this, we’ve got to pass something to make this better.”
Lankford acknowledged that the compromise that he works out with fellow senators Sinema and Murphy may not be acceptable to the Biden White House, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and conservative House Republicans, but he added, “We’re working to thread that needle.”
The three senate negotiators met remotely to work out their border proposal during the annual late December congressional recess, and resumed in-person meetings in the Capitol last week. They have made enough progress to start drafting legislative text describing their areas of agreement, but major differences remain and are under active discussion. These include changes making it easier to deport illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. without giving them their day in court, as well as setting a maximum number of U.S. asylum seekers that could be processed each day or during a year.
Senator Lankford also told Fox News that he was hoping to distribute the text of the emerging deal by “later on this week” to give the other lawmakers in the House and Senate enough time to closely review the bill before any vote to ensure that “nobody’s going to be jammed in this process.”
LIMITING PRESIDENTIAL PAROLE AUTHORITY
Republicans are also insisting on narrowing the president’s authority to grant what is known as humanitarian parole, which enables an unlimited number of people from designated countries who would not otherwise be able to qualify for a visa to enter the U.S.
The Biden administration has been using that power to admit hundreds of thousands of migrants who have registered with the federal government in advance, as well as 80,000 Afghans who arrived here after Biden’s disastrous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, and more than 10,000 Ukrainians fleeing from the Russian invasion.
Even if Senators Lankford, Sinema, and Murphy can agree on a bipartisan border policy reform proposal, it is not clear that it would be acceptable to House Republicans, who passed their own package of immigration policy reforms in a party-line vote last year called H.R. 2.
That H.R. 2 bill would provide funding to complete the wall along the southern border that former President Donald Trump tried to build. It would also reinstate the so-called stay in Mexico policy that was in effect during Trump’s presidency which required migrant applicants for asylum to wait in Mexican border cities until their U.S. immigration court proceedings were complete. The H.R. 2 bill also called for a combination of policy changes that would make it much more difficult for migrants to file for asylum upon first reaching the southern border.
CHAOS AT THE BORDER MUST BE ENDED FIRST
While most conservatives would probably agree with Democrats who claim that current federal immigration laws are obsolete, they believe that the chaos at the southern border must be ended first through vigorous enforcement of the existing laws, bringing down the vast number of illegal crossings, before intelligent negotiations can begin on comprehensive and effective immigration law reforms. Even many Democrats, such as Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, now concede that “We need to bring [in] some of these people — immigrants — but we don’t want illegals.”
When leading House conservative Republican Jim Jordan was asked by Fox News over the weekend whether he would be willing to shut down the federal government over these open border immigration issues, he replied, “I think we have to, because I think that’s what the American people demand.”
Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, former President Donald Trump outlined his solution to the illegal immigration problem in an op-ed published by the Des Moines Register last week.
TRUMP PROMISES TO RESTORE BORDER SECURITY
“The most urgent task facing the next president is to end Joe Biden’s nation-wrecking nightmare on our southern border. I am the only candidate who will stop this invasion — and I will do it on day one,” Trump wrote.
“Under the Trump administration, we had the most secure border in U.S. history. We ended catch-and-release, and removed over 1 million illegal aliens in my first term. . .
“By the time I left office, we’d built 500 miles of border wall, with many more miles just weeks away from completion. And under my Title 42 policy, people all over the world knew that if they entered illegally, we would send them straight back home.
“But then Joe Biden came in, canceled the border wall, ended Remain in Mexico, ripped up my asylum bans, ended Title 42, and began resettling millions of migrants into American communities at taxpayer expense.
“Now you are witnessing the disastrous results. We have the highest number of illegal border crossings in history, by far. . .
“Then, we will begin a record-setting deportation operation. Joe Biden has given us no choice. The millions of illegal aliens who have invaded under Biden require a record number of removals. This is just common sense.”
HOW OPEN BORDERS ARE HURTING AMERICA
Highly respected conservative commentator Victor Davis Hansen writes on the American Greatness website that there “are at least 10 ways the [Biden administration] open border is insidiously destroying the United States.”
First, Hansen notes, Biden’s open border policies are grossly unfair to those who would enter the U.S. legally and still must “provide required documents, undergo audits, and complete background checks,” while at the same time rewarding “unlawful behavior by greenlighting amnesties for lawbreakers.”
Second, “the utter lawlessness at the border contribute to the general coarseness and current mockery of the rule of law in general — an epidemic that plagues our cities with homelessness, smash-and-grabs, car-jackings, and random assaults.”
Third, because of the preferred treatment accorded by the Biden administration to illegal immigrants, they are being encouraged to assume that, “1) in America, the laws do not apply to them and, 2) their new naïve or guilt-ridden hosts, not themselves, are responsible for their welfare.”
Fourth, Hansen asks, “Do we even care that some $60 billion leaves the U.S. as remittances into Mexico, mostly by illegal residents here who are on state and local subsidies to free up their billions of dollars to support people inside Mexico that [the Mexican government] has no intention of helping?”
Fifth, “Do we even care that the U.S. [open border policy] is enriching the cartels through its tolerance of drug importation and alien smuggling. . . [and] abetting the annual 100,000 deaths of Americans through [drug] overdoses?”
AMERICAN CITIZENS DESERVE PREFERRED TREATMENT
Sixth, “Illegal immigration is insidiously diminishing citizenship by equating illegal aliens with, if not making them preferable to, American citizens. . . Why, in bankrupt cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, where social services are overwhelmed with thousands of needy citizens, are we imploding such facilities with influxes of illegal aliens?”
Seventh, “where does America find the hundreds of billions of dollars to welcome in millions of the unaudited — all in need of immediate no-questions-asked entitlements, and for some years on end?”
Eighth, Hansen suggests that America’s enemies abroad, including the ayatollahs of Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the rulers of communist China, will likely conclude that “a nation too afraid to protect its own sovereignty can hardly defend that of its allies.”
Ninth, because of the dominant woke DEI narrative, “99 percent of illegal aliens — who will be instantly categorized as the so-called nonwhite — will enter the U.S. with innate claims against the majority. Thus, they will become instantly eligible for everything from affirmative action preferences in hiring and admissions to race-based targeted equity programs and subsidies.”
Finally, Hansen asks, “[Since] the woke Left defines America as incurably racist, how could the nonwhite millions possibly flee their home countries, where they compose a majority of the population, only to seek out the one country in the world where they are told toxic ‘white privilege’ is unsurpassed?”
Hansen concludes that “If the amorality of illegal immigration were not so deleterious to Americans, its absurdity would be laughable.”
RETURNING CONGRESS TO “REGULAR ORDER”
Meanwhile, the new budget deal between Schumer and Johnson allows for a total of $886.3 billion in defense spending and $772.7 billion in domestic discretionary spending for the current fiscal year, which began last October 1. It clears the way for the final negotiation of 12 separate spending bills, to fund each of the various departments of the federal government. That is known as “regular order, the traditional way that Congress used to fund the federal government instead of the current process of passing huge omnibus spending bills, written behind closed doors and voted upon at the last minute, without giving the legislators an adequate opportunity to properly consider, debate or improve upon them.”
Under the continuing resolution (CR) that was passed by the House and Senate in November to keep the government running, funding would run out on January 19 for the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Energy, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Veteran’s Administration (VA), while the rest of the federal government, including the Pentagon, would lose their funding and be forced to partially shut down on February 2. To prevent those shutdowns, the House and Senate need to pass those 12 individual funding bills and send them to the White House to be signed into law by President Joe Biden by those deadlines.
House Republicans have already passed seven of the 12 departmental spending authorization bills, but have struggled to produce the majority needed to pass the remaining five bills, due to disputes over some of their provisions between GOP conservatives and moderates. Even worse, the Democrat-controlled Senate has yet to pass any of the 12 required departmental spending bills. The short time remaining before those two government shutdown deadlines has prompted Democrat Senator Patty Murray, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, to promise that she will work “with my colleagues around the clock in the coming days” to pass the 12 spending bills before the current funding CR expires.
GOP SHIFTING MONEY AWAY FROM THE IRS
At the insistence of House Speaker Johnson, the new top-line budget deal partially pays for some of the spending it calls for by canceling $6.1 billion in Covid-19 emergency spending that Congress had previously authorized but which has not yet been spent. It also calls for $20 billion in cuts this fiscal year from the $80 billion allocation that had been included in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act to modernize the computers at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and enable it to hire an army of new agents to raise more money for the federal government by going after those who have been cheating on their taxes. The Biden administration claims that the additional IRS agents will focus on forcing the wealthy and successful corporations to pay their “fair share” of taxes, but Republicans warn that the newly hired agents are more likely to harass middle-income taxpayers who are more vulnerable to IRS audits.
A partisan disagreement has already emerged about the size of the spending cuts at the IRS. Schumer and the Democrats say they had agreed only to speed up $20 billion in spending cuts to the IRS that McCarthy had negotiated last year, while Johnson and the Republicans say the new deal includes an additional $10 billion in IRS spending cuts, for a total reduction of $30 billion.
President Biden welcomed the spending agreement in a statement that said, “The bipartisan funding framework congressional leaders have reached moves us one step closer to preventing a needless government shutdown and protecting important national priorities. It reflects the funding levels that I negotiated with both parties and signed into law last spring. It rejects deep cuts to programs hard-working families count on, and provides a path to passing full-year funding bills that deliver for the American people and are free of any extreme policies. . .”
BIDEN LECTURES CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS
“Congressional Republicans must do their job, stop threatening to shut down the government, and fulfill their basic responsibility to fund critical domestic and national security priorities, including my supplemental request” for Ukraine and Israel, Biden added.
Speaker Johnson, in a letter to the members of his GOP House caucus, called the total budget spending deal, “the most favorable budget agreement Republicans have achieved in over a decade. . .
“[The] result is real savings to American taxpayers and real reductions in the federal bureaucracy.”
Johnson also claimed that the deal contains “hard-fought concessions” from Democrats, but he also admitted that, “these final spending levels will not satisfy everyone, and they do not cut as much spending as many of us would like.”
However, the conservative Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus quickly condemned the spending agreement announced by Schumer and Johnson as a “total failure” and “totally unacceptable.”
REPUBLICAN CONSERVATIVES WANT MORE SPENDING CUTS
Before the announcement of the top-line budget deal, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, Virginia GOP Congressman Bob Good, told the Washington Post, “I fear that there will ultimately be a deal that’s bad for the country. It’s bad for the American people, that’s bad for the deficit, and bad for the national debt.
“I hope it’s not the case. I’m certainly trying to persuade Speaker Johnson otherwise — trying to persuade my Republican colleagues to stand with the speaker in having his back to fight to cut spending year-over-year, to implement the policies that reverse the harm that’s been done by the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer policies that are in place right now,” Good said.
Texas GOP Congressman Chip Roy, one of the most outspoken members of the Freedom Caucus, blasted the McCarthy-Schumer spending deal while campaigning for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ahead of the January 15 Iowa caucuses. He said that he was “a hard, violent ‘no’ on caps-busting spending and not securing the border, and that’s where it seems like we’re heading.” He also said in response to criticism from an unnamed Republican leader “saying how my tactics and my position on the southern border are not helpful, how they’re ‘ticking off’ some of my colleagues. I said, ‘Well, it’s not gonna be the first time and it’s not the last.’”
The Freedom Caucus had wanted Congress to reduce 2024 federal spending levels to pre-Covid pandemic levels, and to attach conservative social policy amendments to the spending legislation which would impose new restrictions on illegal immigration at the southern border, establish a nationwide right-to-life policy, and rein in the so-called “deep state” federal government bureaucracy. Speaker Johnson has promised to “fight for the important policy riders” in the House H.R. 2 measure. But Democrats who control the Senate call such social policy amendments unacceptable non-starters in a federal budget bill.
Conservative Republicans are also unhappy that the new Johnson-Schumer deal retains a controversial “handshake” side agreement between McCarthy and Biden last year that permits the spending of an additional $69 billion in both 2024 and 2025 to adjust for inflation. That disputed $69 billion in spending is why Speaker Johnson said that the total non-defense budget spending was $704 billion, while liberal Senate Democrats who favor more spending said that the agreement called for a $773 domestic billion spending cap.
DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT TO DISCUSS POLICY ISSUES
However, Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a joint statement, “We have made clear to Speaker Mike Johnson that Democrats will not support including poison pill [social] policy changes in any of the twelve appropriations bills put before the Congress.”
The statement by Schumer and Jeffries also said, “By securing the $772.7 billion for non-defense discretionary funding, we can protect key domestic priorities like veterans’ benefits, health care, and nutrition assistance from the draconian cuts sought by right-wing extremists.”
In briefing his Democrat colleagues on the deal he negotiated with Speaker Johnson, Schumer called it a “good deal for Democrats and the country,” and joined with Jeffries to say that Congress would need to take a bipartisan approach to “avoid a costly and disruptive [government] shutdown.”
The opposition of the Freedom Caucus portends trouble for Speaker Johnson in getting a Republican-only House majority to pass the 12 appropriations bills in time to avoid a government shutdown, unless more spending cuts are included. If not, Johnson will be forced to call for support from House Democrats to pass the spending bills. Similarly, there is little time available for a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out their disagreements over any non-spending related side provisions that may be added separately by each chamber, if they hope to meet the looming January 19 and February 2 deadlines to avoid a partial government shutdown.
JOHNSON FACING THE SAME CHALLENGE AS MCCARTHY
The conservative objections to the top-line budget deal with Senator Schumer could put Speaker Johnson at risk of the same kind of conservative House GOP revolt that resulted in McCarthy’s ouster, which set off an embarrassing three-week-long struggle before GOP House members agreed to make the previously little-known Freedom Caucus member their new Speaker.
On the other hand, Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans left in Washington, D.C., said that she would have preferred a higher cap on 2024 defense spending, to fund more shipbuilding to build up the depleted U.S. Navy and other new Pentagon programs. However, Collins said, the current top-line budget deal announced by Johnson and Schumer was still preferable to the alternative, which would be an across-the-board, automatic 1 percent federal spending cut if all 12 departmental appropriation bills are not passed into law by April 30, that was part of last year’s deal between Biden and McCarthy.
The veteran Maine senator, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, then added, “The bigger problem that I see is, how does a bill that has to combine four separate bills pass both chambers and become law in less than two weeks’ time? This is not going to be easy, to give the understatement of 2024.”
In the weeks ahead, as the presidential campaign shifts into high gear, with Americans starting to vote for their favorite candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, Congress will face its greatest test in recent years of its ability to carry out its governing functions as this country’s founding fathers had originally intended.