Republicans in the Senate and House still cannot agree on the best bill to avert a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shutdown. The only thing they agree upon is they will pass bills preventing its shutdown on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. On Friday, the Senate will vote on a “clean” bill funding DHS for the rest of 2015 fiscal year, while the House will vote on a three-week stopgap spending measure, until they decide on the Senate bill. The main controversy surrounding the bill is the immigration provisions Republicans support to defund President Barack Obama immigration executive actions, that Democrats thoroughly oppose and prevented the bill from advancing in the Senate four times.
Republicans in the Senate and House cannot agree; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY has already acquiesced, and agreed with Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV to vote a clean $40 billion funding bill. To appease Republicans McConnell will hold a separate bill to repeal funds for the immigration executive amnesty. McConnell issued his compromise late Tuesday, Feb. 24, while Reid agreed on Wednesday, Feb. 25. The Senate voted on Wednesday to advance the bill by an overwhelming vote of 98 to 2 and will put the bill to a final vote on Friday morning.
Reid only agreed to the deal after putting aside concerns Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH would not agree and put the bill to a vote. Boehner has kept silent on his intentions with the bill, although many Republicans thoroughly oppose a clean bill, and are upset with what they deem as McConnell’s surrender. The House Republican conference met late Thursday afternoon and they decided to put a clean three-week stopgap measure to a vote on Friday, Feb. 27. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-KY told the press after the meeting, “I think we’ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it’ll be a very strong vote.”
Earlier in the day on Thursday, Boehner remained coy about his intentions with the bill during a press conference at the Capital. Essentially repeating what he said at his press the day before, Boehner said, “We’re waiting to see what the Senate can or can’t do. Then we’ll make decisions about how we’re going to proceed.” When pressed about the House’s plans, Boehner joked by blowing kisses to the reporters present, a moment that received more attention than his words, where he said through the “laughter,” “When we make decisions, I’ll let you know. That’s just a kiss, that’s all.”
The speaker takes an opposite approach to the situation he believes the House position on Obama’s immigration executive actions, which would prevent deportations for nearly 5 million illegal immigrants is the right one and that the Senate Democrats that have held up the funding bill. Boehner stated, “We passed a bill to fund the department six weeks ago. Six weeks ago!…. I just think it’s outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president, where the president himself said he didn’t have the authority to do this. The president said 22 times that he did not have the authority to make these changes in law. And yet he did it anyway. The Congress of the United States cannot look the other way and act like it didn’t happen.”
When questioned about the rift between the House and Senate Republicans over the bill, the speaker responded, “It is not a fight amongst Republicans. All Republicans agree that we want to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and we want to stop the president’s executive actions with regard to immigration.” Boehner expressed that the differences are not ideological, but just represent the difference styles of the two Congressional chambers, “We have two different institutions that don’t have the same body temperature every day and so we tend to try and work to narrow the differences. But sometimes there are differences. The House by nature and by design is a hell of a lot more rambunctious place than the Senate. Much more.”
Reid promised on Thursday, the Senate Democrats would not conference with the House Republicans bill if it includes any provisions defunding the immigration actions. Speaking to the press, Reid said, “We’ve heard all kinds of rumors that the House is going to take our fully funded bill and send it back with a number of riders on it. It is a waste of time. We will not allow a conference to take place. It will not happen.” Reid heavily criticized the House GOP on their position with attempt to scare the public, and demonize the Republicans, “ISIS appears to have money. Terrorists appear to have money. Why shouldn’t our homeland have the ability to protect itself? This is like living in a world of crazy people.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, also speaking at the same press conference as the minority leader urged House Republicans that the “The gamesmanship should end. The Texas case, the court – I disagree with the court decision – gave them a face-saving way to just end this… It’s about time for them to grow up and pass a bill.” Pelosi also pointed out the consequences if DHS does not have funding and has to operate on a semi-shutdown, “I think most everybody I know cannot live without having their paycheck on time — members of Congress even. And yet, they’re asking this Department of Homeland Security people to do that.”
The injunction on Obama’s executive actions has been one factor that has changed the whole dynamic in the fight against the president on immigration, and allowed Senate Republicans to support a clean DHS funding bill. Late last Monday evening, Feb. 16, 2015 U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, granted the requests of 26 states to block the president’s actions from November with a temporary injunction. Judge Hanen cited that the White House failed “to comply with a law detailing how the federal government must establish regulations.”
Congress has until Friday, Feb. 27 at midnight to pass any kind of spending bill or else the DHS will be shutdown. If that happens 30,000 office workers will be furloughed, and front line staff would continue working, but without pay. They would represent 80 percent of 240,000 employees from “Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard.” DHS was the only department not funded for the 2015 fiscal year. If the Senate and the president would accept the House’s stopgap measure it would avert a shutdown and give the two chambers more time to agree on bill for both the funding and immigration.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.