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With one week to go until spending fight, a series of sticking points emerges

By Lauren Fox, CNN

With just over a week until another spending deadline, negotiators are still working furiously around the clock to finish their work on the remaining six bills, and a series of sticking points remain including over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

“I think Homeland we knew was going to be challenging, and there are a couple of other outstanding issues in a couple of the other bills, but hopefully we can work through them,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the GOP whip.

A source familiar with the conversation told CNN that Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, laid out the situation during a GOP lunch. She told colleagues that there were still issues to work through on the Homeland bill, legislation that is historically difficult to get across the finish line and even more complicated this year because immigration has emerged as a top campaign issue.

“Hopefully people will understand that this is about keeping our borders secure and not about a goddamn campaign issue in the fall,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana.

Democrats are also less open to some Republicans’ push for riders in this bill since they feel they gave Republicans a series of border policy changes that they rejected out of hand earlier this year.

One of the options on the table is separating the Homeland Security funding bill.

Another issue that has emerged for some Democrats in this tranche of spending bills is funding for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees following reports by Israel that some staff played a role in Hamas’ October 7 attack. Republicans are largely fighting to ensure no money flows to the agency at all in this spending package. The US has paused funding for UNRWA as a UN review continues about the agency and any involvement in the October 7 attack. But, some Democrats including Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, are arguing that cutting off funding for the entire agency forever would be ill advised given the work the agency does not just in Gaza but across the Middle East including Jordan.

“UNRWA provides shelter, health care, education, sanitation for two and a half million Palestinians who live in 10 different camps,” Coons said. “I would like to see a conditional review of UNRWA Gaza and a continuation of funding of the rest of them.”

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, said, “It would be a mistake” to cut off all of UNWRA.

A cessation of past funding for the agency was included in the supplemental package that passed the Senate in February and stalled in the House, but including a ban on all future spending in the Fiscal Year 24 spending bills is of growing concern to several Democrats who say it could lead to a rise in instability in the Middle East.

Republicans’ position is there are other ways to get aid to refugee programs including USAID and other programs.

“These guys were embedded in Hamas,” Thune said. “They helped the terrorists viciously attack Israel, and I don’t know why we would even think about sending them a single dollar. There are lots of great organizations that do relief work that could take the lead on this.”

The issue has become so pressing that Jordan’s King Abdullah is making calls to members.

“I’ve talked to King Abdullah at least three times in the last two weeks,” Cardin said.

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