President Joe Biden speaks on the one year anniversary of the PACT Act at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Aug. 10, 2023.  On Thursday, the White House made an emergency funding request that included $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

President Joe Biden speaks on the one year anniversary of the PACT Act at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Aug. 10, 2023. On Thursday, the White House made an emergency funding request that included $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Biden requests $40B to boost funding at select agencies

Border security, federal firefighter pay and Ukraine aid are part of the emergency request.

The White House on Thursday asked Congress for $40 billion to support efforts at the Defense Department and agencies across government, saying the emergency spending was necessary to sustain critical activities. 

The supplemental funding request included $24 billion for agency efforts to assist Ukraine, including money for the Pentagon; the departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Energy; and the U.S. Agency for International Development. About $4 billion would go to the departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice and Labor for border operations as the Biden administration looks to ensure it has adequate resources for law enforcement personnel, migrant sheltering and other services and the fentanyl crisis. The White House also asked for $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to refill the coffers for disaster response. 

With few legislative days until the end of the fiscal year and the House and Senate significantly divided on how to fund the government in fiscal 2024, the Office of Management and Budget said on Thursday the emergency funding was necessary to carry over certain operations during any period where a stopgap spending bill is in effect. 

Many lawmakers, particularly Senate Republicans, have prioritized boosting funding the Pentagon after rejecting President Biden’s proposed spending increase as insufficient. After agreeing to freeze spending at non-defense agencies as part of the deal to increase the debt limit, the Biden administration is now looking to boost funding for some domestic agencies to go along with his request for Defense. 

While the Senate has so far moved in a widely bipartisan fashion on its fiscal 2024 spending bills, Republicans initially rejected the top-line levels for the individual measures over what they perceived as shortfalls for Defense and the Homeland Security Department. Through the supplemental request, the White House and Republicans can work around the caps agreed to in the debt deal to boost spending for their priorities. Some conservative lawmakers, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have balked at approving emergency funding, voicing apprehension over the U.S. government’s ongoing support for Ukraine and any effort to increase spending above the agreed upon levels. 

Some of the emergency spending will go toward efforts to boost the federal workforce. The Justice Department would receive $59 million to hire more immigration judges and support staff. The departments of Agriculture and Interior would receive a collective $60 million to ensure adequate funding to support recent pay increases for federal firefighters. Absent congressional action, about 20,000 firefighters are facing a cliff that would cut their pay by up to $20,000. 

“The administration is committed to building a more robust and resilient wildland firefighter workforce and fairly compensating wildland firefighters for the difficult and dangerous work they do,” a senior administration official said on Thursday. “These firefighters put their lives on the line to protect our communities and the president has made it clear we're going to have their backs.” 

Administration officials said the immigration funding would allow DHS and other agencies to continue implementing Biden’s plan that went into effect as the pandemic-era policy known as Title 42 came to an end, which has coincided with a decline in illegal migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border. That would include humanitarian efforts, such as support for HHS’ refugee program.

A senior administration official told reporters the White House expects Congress to pass its request without controversy. 

“We hope and expect that this funding request will earn bipartisan support,” the official said. “This is about delivering on our shared responsibility to the American people.”

The official added the emergency funding request had become part of normal operations in recent years and was not motivated by the frozen spending levels to which Biden and House Republicans previously agreed. 

“I think there's nothing unusual or surprising about the fact that, alongside the regular order process for appropriations, we would work with Congress to secure resources necessary to respond to urgent needs,” the official said. 

For the regular fiscal 2024 appropriations process, the two chambers of Congress are moving along very different tracks. The Senate Appropriations Committee has now approved all 12 annual must-pass spending measures, all with broad bipartisan support. Its House counterpart, meanwhile, has approved bills solely along partisan lines after it used spending levels set below those to which Republican leadership and President Biden agreed as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The full House approved one spending bill—funding the Veterans Affairs Department—without any Democratic support before the August recess but scuttled a second funding measure due to conservative complaints that the appropriation for the Agriculture Department was still too high.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the Senate’s progress to date a “feat unheard of,” and said advancing the various pieces of legislation would be the top priority in a busy work period following the August recess. 

“There's a lot to do when we get back but we're making good progress on every one of those pieces of legislation,” Schumer said just before lawmakers departed for the month-long break, “as well as on the most important thing when we get back, funding the government in the appropriations process.”

Lawmakers will have until Sept. 30 to strike a bicameral deal to fund the government, or pass a stopgap measure, to avoid a shutdown. If they have not passed line-by-line appropriations for each agency by Jan. 1, an automatic, across-the-board 1% cut from current levels will take effect.  

“The administration looks forward to our continued work with members of both parties in the Congress on government funding bills for the next fiscal year,” Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said in a letter to congressional leaders issuing the emergency funding request. “Just as the Congress and the administration came together to reach a funding agreement for the current fiscal year that delivers for the American people, I am confident that we can do the same for fiscal 2024.”