Skip to content
Sign up to receive our free weekday morning edition, and you'll never miss a scoop.
Capitol Hill

UNRWA funding emerges as sticking point in FY2024 spending talks

News: As Hill leaders scramble to finish the last of the FY2024 spending bills, a new flashpoint has emerged in the fight to avert a government shutdown next week — U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The U.S. government suspended funding last month for UNRWA after the Israeli government accused a dozen employees of the agency of being involved in the Oct. 7 terror attacks. The United Nations is still investigating those allegations. The United States is UNRWA’s biggest donor, giving more than $370 million in 2023. While nearly all of this year’s U.S. aid for UNRWA had already been spent before the suspension, getting congressional approval for new funding is the issue.

The $95 billion foreign aid package passed by the Senate last month included language barring funding for UNRWA. And it called for the State Department and USAID to set up procedures to make sure “Hamas and other terrorist and extremist entities in Gaza” don’t get any U.S. funds.

House Republicans want to keep this restriction in place as part of the FY2024 State and Foreign Operations spending bill, one of the six remaining appropriations measures that must be passed by the March 22 shutdown deadline. The other outstanding bills include Defense; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Labor-HHS; and the Legislative Branch.

For their part, House and Senate Democrats don’t want to permanently handcuff the U.N. agency charged with providing relief to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in the midst of Israel’s grueling war with Hamas. Democrats want to set conditions on UNRWA aid but not a permanent ban.

Democrats also note that the bipartisan Senate foreign package includes more than $9 billion in humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to bring up the Senate package for a vote.

So to Democrats, House Republicans want the UNRWA language “for free,” meaning they get to cut off UNRWA funding without providing any help to the beleaguered Palestinians.

House Republicans counter that Democrats are willing to shut down the federal government to block language that the Senate already passed.

The UNRWA dispute — as well as the issue of overall U.S. support for the United Nations — has been kicked up to the level of the Big Four leaders.

The Homeland Security bill remains the biggest problem area in the spending talks, which Hill leaders hope to complete as soon as possible in order to meet the March 22 shutdown deadline.

But the two sides are still clashing over how much money to spend on the Border Patrol and facilities to detain undocumented migrants, among other issues. Some lawmakers have warned that Congress may have to pass a year-long continuing resolution to fund DHS.

There are hang-ups on the other spending bills as well. For instance, there’s a dispute over roughly $75 million in election grants as part of the FSGG bill. Republicans want to zero it out, Democrats want to keep it in place. Labor-HHS has its own problems too.

However, the Defense bill — the biggest of the annual measures — is ready to go, according to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chair of the Defense subcommittee on the House Appropriations panel. “I gotta bring the whole train along with me,” Calvert joked about the second minibus.

There will have to be a bicameral agreement on the overall spending package very soon. House and Senate appropriations staffers will need to finish drafting the individual bills and then read them out line-by-line, an arduous process that takes several days.

In order to conform with the 72-hour rule for House Republicans and still meet the March 22 shutdown deadline, the finished package will have to be released this weekend. The House will go first, followed by the Senate, similar to the first minibus.

— John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman

Presented by AARP

AARP knows older voters. 

We’ve made it our business to know what matters to people 50 and over—like we know that protecting Social Security and supporting family caregivers are among their top priorities. Learn more from our polling in Pennsylvania.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.