By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved funds Friday to keep the Homeland Security Department fully operating past a midnight deadline, but House Republicans are refusing to follow suit and plan to push a standoff over immigration policy to the brink.
The Senate passed the bill, 68-31, with conservative Republicans making up the opposition.
After approving funds for the department, the Senate turned away a separate measure that would have rolled back President Barack Obama’s plan to shield from deportation several million immigrants in the country illegally.
That measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. Four Democrats voted with the GOP in trying to halt the president’s plan.
The huge Homeland Security department is scheduled to run out of legal authority to spend money unless Congress acts. Some of the department’s roughly 230,000 employees would be furloughed, but most would be required to work without pay as they guard the nation’s borders and ports and run programs such as immigration, customs and airport security.
House Republicans prefer a stopgap measure that would fund the department for just three weeks so they can continue to try to use the money bill as leverage to try to force Obama to back down on the deportation plan.
Many conservatives oppose Obama’s plan as a matter of policy and also see it as an overreach of the president’s executive authority.
Voting on the House measure was expected later Friday.
Patience has run thin on Capitol Hill, where many Republicans, who now have majority control of both chambers, have grown tired of the hard-line stance by their most conservative colleagues.
“A lot of folks aren’t happy,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), a conservative who has tangled with the House leadership but said he would likely go along with the stopgap plan as the “best of the worst options.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) engineered a compromise earlier this week when he decided to go along with a bill that would fund the department and not include any of the immigration restrictions that House Republicans had insisted on.
McConnell’s plan called for the separate vote on the measure to undo Obama’s immigration plan. But since there was no guarantee that measure could pass, and the president has already said he would veto such a bill, conservatives said McConnell’s proposal was empty.
In the House, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) has been reluctant to fight with the most conservative members on the immigration issue, and House passage of the money bill remains in doubt.
Few Democrats are likely to vote for the three-week extension. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is urging her colleagues to vote against it. Whether enough Republicans will vote for it to pass without Democratic support remains unclear.
If the three-week money bill is able to clear the House later Friday, the Senate will probably accept the stopgap approach. Senators are wary of being seen as responsible for a shutdown.
If the bill does not pass, Boehner’s next move remains uncertain.
Republicans had hoped to start the year by ending the cycle of crisis governing that has dominated Congress, but so far, that goal has remained elusive.
AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards