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Congress races to lock in spending deal before shutdown deadline

By Clare Foran, Lauren Fox and Haley Talbot, CNN

(CNN) — Lawmakers returning to Washington this week face a critical government funding deadline, and – despite a deal on top-line spending numbers announced over the weekend – more work remains to avert a shutdown.

In a rare event, Congress is confronting not one but two government shutdown deadlines early this year – on January 19 and February 2.

In a sign of progress Sunday afternoon, the top-line numbers agreed to by House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer include $1.59 trillion for fiscal year 2024, with $886 billion for defense spending and $704 billion in non-defense spending. They also agreed to a $69 billion side deal in adjustments that will go toward non-defense domestic spending.

The side deal brings the non-defense spending figure to nearly $773 billion, a Democratic source told CNN, with spending close to $1.66 trillion overall.

Agreeing on an overall spending level is a key first step in funding the government, but Congress will have to either pass a series of funding bills to keep the government open through September – a massive task riddled with potential pitfalls – or approve a stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution to extend funding – a possibility that lawmakers from both parties have warned would not adequately address policy challenges and operational needs.

Schumer has warned that if conservatives attempt to add controversial policy riders – also known as “poison pills” – to spending bills, they could risk a shutdown.

“Democrats have made clear to Speaker Johnson that we will not support the inclusion of any poison pills in any of the 12 appropriation bills before the Congress,” he said Monday in remarks on the Senate floor. “If the hard right chooses to spoil this agreement with poison pills, they’ll be to blame if we start careening towards a shutdown.”

In a sign of the potential issues facing congressional leaders, the far-right House Freedom Caucus called the deal a “total failure,” presenting a challenge for Johnson, who is leading an extremely narrow majority. Freedom Caucus members have been adamant that spending levels be cut dramatically more than what congressional leaders announced Sunday.

In addition to the high-stakes effort to avert a shutdown, a push to enact border security measures has drawn increasing scrutiny from both sides of the aisle and complicated an effort to pass aid to Ukraine and Israel, two key US allies facing war.

A bipartisan group of senators has been in talks to try to strike a deal over border security that could clear the way for passage of aid for Ukraine and Israel. But a growing number of House Republicans warn that a Senate compromise over border security stands virtually no chance of passing their chamber, making clear instead they will only accept a deal that mirrors the hardline immigration bill they passed last year – known as HR 2 – even though Senate Democrats and the White House strongly oppose that plan and call it a nonstarter.

The warning from House Republicans underscores the grim prospects for border security as well as aid to Ukraine and Israel. House Republican demands over border security may also put the effort to avert a shutdown at risk as some conservatives have begun calling to shut down the government if their demands aren’t met.

“We must make funding for federal government operations contingent on the President signing H.R.2, or its functional equivalent, into law and stopping the flow across our border,” GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas wrote in a recent letter to colleagues.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan told CNN on Monday that the House GOP should use the upcoming funding bills to keep the government open as leverage for tougher immigration restrictions.

“We should use every opportunity, every must-pass bill, we should be looking to put on that legislation language that would address the problem,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.

“What I think we should do is fund our government and deal with the border situation,” he said.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the key GOP negotiators in the chamber, said in an interview that aired Sunday, “We’re hoping to get text out by later on this week,” but warned, “nothing’s been done in this area for decades.”

“Everybody will have time to be able to read and go through it. No one’s going to be jammed in this process, but it’s a matter of trying to be able to get this out,” Lankford told “Fox News Sunday.” “But, to make law, we’ve got to have a Democratic Senate, a Democratic White House and a Republican House to be able to go through this.”

The focus on border security comes as House Republicans plan to ratchet up their criticisms of the Biden administration’s immigration policies in an effort to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Johnson has telegraphed to his members that he’s interested in getting more directly involved in talks with the White House over border security. The Louisiana Republican discussed this on a call last week with freshman lawmakers, a source familiar told CNN.

White House budget chief Shalanda Young expressed concern about a government shutdown last week.

Pressed on whether she would predict a shutdown, Young, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said during an appearance at “The Monitor Breakfast” Friday morning that she is “not optimistic,” pointing to comments from House Republicans who have threatened to shut down the government over border policy.

Speaker Johnson faces tough vote math and narrow margin

Johnson is facing an extremely narrow majority, which will make wrangling votes that much harder.

Republicans control just 220 seats, while Democrats control 213, which means the House GOP can afford only a few defections on party-line priorities. Additionally, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s office has announced that he will work remotely until February as he recovers from a stem cell transplant.

The majority is poised to shrink even further by the end of the month with Ohio GOP Rep. Bill Johnson set to resign from Congress on January 21 to take a job as president of Youngstown State University.

As a result, Johnson will have little margin for error as Congress faces major policy battles in the weeks ahead.

“If you can get some policy wins in the border, which I think Democrats are more and more interested in talking about now, because the border is becoming a bipartisan issue, anything is going to be a win when you’ve got a three-vote majority in the House,” Mick Mulvaney, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump, told “The Axe Files with David Axelrod” podcast.

Congress passed stopgap legislation in mid-November extending government funding until January 19 for priorities including military construction, veterans’ affairs, transportation, housing and the Energy Department. The rest of the government will be funded until February 2.

The goal was to give lawmakers more time to try to pass full-year spending bills, but there is now very little time ahead of the rapidly approaching deadlines.

In addition to navigating government funding and border policy, Johnson must steer his narrow majority through the GOP impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, which will be under a microscope in the weeks to come, as well as other GOP oversight efforts aimed at the Biden administration.

House Republicans are also forging ahead with steps to impeach Mayorkas over his handling of the border crisis.

In a statement provided to CNN, a committee spokesperson said, “the House Committee on Homeland Security has conducted a comprehensive investigation into Secretary Mayorkas’ handling of, and role in, the unprecedented crisis at the Southwest border” for nearly a year.

“Following the bipartisan vote in the House to refer articles of impeachment against the secretary to our Committee, we will be conducting hearings and taking up those articles,” the statement said.

The Department of Homeland Security responded in a statement, arguing that House Republicans are “pursuing a baseless political exercise that has been rejected by members of both parties and already failed on a bipartisan vote.”

Additionally, House Oversight Committee Republicans have announced they will consider a resolution this week to hold Biden’s son Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress for not complying with a subpoena for a closed-door deposition. Hunter Biden instead addressed reporters outside the Capitol and has said he is willing to testify publicly.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Kristin Wilson, Betsy Klein, Annie Grayer and Casey Gannon contributed to this report.

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