WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats signed on to a Senate Republican plan to avoid a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department, putting pressure Wednesday on House Republicans to drop their insistence that any funding measure reverse President Barack Obama’s orders easing immigration policies.
Spending for the department, which oversees the nation’s borders, expires Friday at midnight — held hostage in a proxy battle over Obama’s recent executive actions sparing millions of immigrants in this country illegally from deportation. Republicans won full control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.
If Congress doesn’t act before the deadline to fund Homeland Security for another year, the shutdown would mean almost 90 percent of the department’s workers who are considered essential would have to work without pay until the situation is resolved. The showdown is therefore unlikely to have an immediate impact on U.S. security beyond worsening morale.
Senate Republicans offered to allow a vote on a bill to fund the agency without provisions that would overturn Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said his party would support the bill. Reid had previously indicated he wouldn’t go along with it without first getting assurances that the bill would pass in the House.
The Senate then voted 98 to 2 in favor of a procedural motion that will allow the legislation to advance toward final passage.
But the House’s response was uncertain. Earlier Wednesday, Republicans there reacted tepidly at best to the plan.
Reid, after a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats, said it was important to swiftly send the bill to the House. He said, “We look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the next 24 hours to get this done. All eyes now shift to the House of Representatives as soon as we pass our clean funding bill.”
House Speaker John Boehner declined repeatedly to say what he would recommend to his conservative, fractious rank-and-file if the funding bill clears the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I’m waiting for the Senate to act. The House has done their job,” he said after a closed-door meeting of the rank-and-file. Even so, lawmakers were told to be prepared to spend the weekend in the Capitol to resolve the issue.
Republican Rep. Pete King predicted a stand-alone spending measure would clear the House if it first passed the Senate. Yet he acknowledged that was not the preferred course of action for most Republicans, and there was ample evidence of that.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican, said there was scant support expressed inside a House Republican meeting for what he termed a “surrender plan.”
Another frequent Republican rebel, Rep. Matt Salmon, said Boehner would find himself on “very thin ice” if he relied primarily on Democratic votes to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of provisions to roll back immigration directives that Obama issued in 2012 and last year.
House Republicans reacted as the administration stepped up the pressure on the Republicans to fund an agency with major anti-terrorism responsibilities.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that without legislation to set new spending levels, there would be no money for new initiatives such as “border security on the southern border.” He also said disaster relief payments “would grind to a halt.”
Johnson also said a short-term extension would be problematic and that inadequate funding after Friday’s midnight deadline would deal the department a substantial blow.
“It’s like trying to drive across country on no more than five gallons of gas at a time and you don’t know when the next gas station is going to appear,” he said.
For his part, Obama arranged to deliver an immigration-related speech later Wednesday in Miami, home to a large immigrant population.
McConnell’s proposal envisioned two separate votes, one on a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department, and the other to overturn Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration.
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