Congress Set to Avoid Homeland Shutdown Amid Immigration Dispute

The U.S. Capitol is seen on November 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Congress is poised to avoid a partial shutdown of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security tonight the same way lawmakers have addressed a series of previous funding battles -- by punting.

The House is preparing to vote Friday to fund the agency through March 19, and the Senate probably will agree. Current funding ends at midnight.

The move gives lawmakers three more weeks to argue over House Republicans’ demand that a longer-term funding bill for Homeland Security also block President Barack Obama’s November orders protecting about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

“This type of Band-Aid, stopgap funding fix is not the way we should be running things around here,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, speaking on the floor Friday. Still, the bill is needed to “buy time” to reach a long-term funding deal, he said.

House Republicans want to hold conference committee talks over their chamber’s plan to link the Homeland Security and immigration issues. Democrats oppose tying agency funding to immigration policy. The Republican-led Senate voted 68-31 Friday to fund the agency through September without addressing Obama’s orders.

The last-minute funding maneuver comes less than two months after Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress. McConnell has said the party must show that it can govern and that there will be no government shutdowns like the one in October 2013.

Groundhog Day

The short-term Homeland Security funding fix means Republicans will spend another three weeks on this issue instead of moving forward on other agenda items. Congress also has spent time this year passing legislation to approve the Keystone pipeline, which was vetoed by Obama on Tuesday.

“It’s like Groundhog Day,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat. “It puts us back in the same position three weeks from today.”

Without new money the Homeland Security agency’s employees would be put on furlough or required to work without pay.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is under pressure from Tea Party-backed Republicans to use the Homeland Security bill as leverage after he promised a battle over Obama’s immigration orders this year.

Obama has said he would veto any legislation that would reverse his orders on immigration.

Little ‘Choice’

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said members of his party would agree to the three-week spending bill, H.J. Res. 35, even though they prefer to finance the agency through September, the end of the fiscal year. The longer-term funding bill is H.R. 240.

“Obviously we’re not going to shut down government,” Schumer said at a news conference. Republicans are “not giving us much choice.”

The 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013 was caused by an unsuccessful Republican effort to defund Obamacare. In other funding battles, Republicans and Democrats have voted to provide short-term spending to keep the government operating while related disputes are resolved.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, agreed with Democrats that the Senate would address the dispute on immigration policy in a separate bill. The chamber blocked that bill, S. 534, on a 57-42 procedural vote Friday with 60 required. The measure can be brought up again later.

Four Democrats

Voting with Senate Republicans to advance the immigration bill were Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Reid reiterated Friday that Democrats will block negotiations on Obama’s orders on immigration in a conference committee while Homeland Security remains under short-term funding.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent House and Senate leaders a letter Thursday saying a temporary measure “exacerbates the uncertainty for my workforce and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now.”

A partial shutdown would require 30,000 Homeland Security employees to be furloughed and 170,000 essential personnel to keep working without pay, according to Johnson.

The Homeland Security Department includes the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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