WASHINGTON (AP) – Hours from a partial agency shutdown, Congress is moving to approve a short-term funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that leaves intact Obama administration immigration policies Republicans vowed to repeal.
Some House Republicans insisted the tactic would allow them to continue their fight against President Barack Obama's executive directives granting work permits and deportation stays to millions of immigrants in the country illegally. Others predicted that in the end, they would have to bend and pass a full-year spending bill without provisions undoing Obama's immigration policies. That's the approach demanded by Democrats, and already agreed to by Senate Republicans.
It's the best solution that we have available to us right now.
For now, the three-week stopgap measure would allow lawmakers to keep the Homeland Security Department running at a time of heightened threats worldwide — even if it does little more than postpone the fight for another day.
"It's the best solution that we have available to us right now," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. "Nobody wants to shut down the Department of Homeland Security."
The bill would extend current funding levels for the department for three weeks, until March 19. Without action, DHS would begin to shut down at midnight Friday, furloughing 30,000 workers. Another 200,000 would be deemed essential and continue to report to work, albeit without pay.
In a complicated series of events expected Friday, the House planned to vote on the three-week plan and send it to the Senate. The House also planned to seek Senate negotiation on a separate bill passed earlier by the House that funds the Homeland Security Department through Sept. 30, the end of the budget year, while also rolling back Obama's immigration directives.
The Senate planned to hold a separate series of votes that would ultimately produce a "clean" bill to fund DHS through the end of the year without immigration provisions. Then, once the House had acted on the three-week measure, the short-term bill was expected to pass the Senate and gain Obama's signature.
Adding an element of drama, House Democrats announced plans to oppose the three-week stopgap measure, forcing Speaker John Boehner to pass it with exclusively Republican votes. Republicans predicted that the bill would pass, but it faced opposition from the right and the left.
Some of the most conservative Republicans said they couldn't support the legislation because it would allow Obama's immigration policies to continue. The argument advanced by leadership-aligned lawmakers that a federal judge has already put those policies on hold was unpersuasive to this group.
"I am not going to vote under any circumstances to fund illegal conduct," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. "It does not make any difference whether the funding is for three weeks, three months or a full fiscal year. If it's illegal, it's illegal."
Some of the more establishment-minded lawmakers, by contrast, said the House should not be wasting its time with a stopgap bill but should accept the inevitable and vote to fund the department through the rest of the year with no strings attached. Since Senate Democrats have refused to agree to a spending bill rolling back Obama's immigration policies, and Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation, these lawmakers argued the House would have to retreat in the end anyway.
"The only question is when — tomorrow or in three weeks," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "Some folks just have a harder time facing political reality than others."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has been on Capitol Hill every day lobbying lawmakers to fund his department, sent a plea to congressional leaders Thursday asking them to pass a full-year bill, not a stop-gap measure. "A short-term continuing resolution exacerbates the uncertainty for my workforce and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now," Johnson wrote.
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