By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) rejected blame for an impasse in Congress that threatens to cut off funds for the Department of Homeland Security, saying Sunday that it was up to House and Senate leaders to chart a path.
“This was not my plan. This was leadership’s plan,” Cruz said on ABC’s This Week, referring to the stalled legislation that would fund the department while attempting to undo President Barack Obama’s recent immigration programs.
In December, “I said this plan doesn’t make sense,” Cruz said. “It gives away all our leverage, and it’s a plan that is designed to fail. So, I would ask leadership, this is their plan they designed. Let’s see what their next step is.”
Cruz’s comments on a pair of Sunday news shows extended a round of Republican finger-pointing over who is responsible for the showdown over the department’s budget and Obama’s immigration policies. Homeland Security funds are set to run out Feb. 28.
The showdown began in November, when conservative lawmakers demanded legislative retaliation for Obama’s executive action deferring deportation for up to 5 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Republican leaders sought unsuccessfully to win support for a plan to fund all government departments through the end of the government’s fiscal year. The two Republican factions agreed on a compromise that provided money for most of the government for the full year, but funded Homeland Security for just three months.
The idea of the compromise was that the GOP would have leverage to fight Obama anew this year. But so far, that plan has not worked.
In January the House passed a bill to fund the department and included amendments that would undo not only the actions Obama announced last fall, but a 2012 initiative that allowed more than half a million young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to temporarily remain in the U.S. Some Republicans in both the House and Senate argued that measure went too far.
Senate Democrats have blocked multiple attempts by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to open debate on the proposal, reflecting the limits of the conservative strategy.
Many in Washington call Cruz the instigator of the conservative plan. As Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) urged the Senate to approve the House-passed bill, for example, he took the rare step of singling out Cruz as needing to do more to get the measure approved.
But the Texas senator sought to disavow the plan Sunday. Efforts to label him as the plan’s author were a “talking point for people who want to shift blame,” he said.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Cruz also sought to turn attention to Democrats, saying they were “holding national security hostage for partisan political objectives.”
“I’ve been willing to … take on my own party when my own party is not standing for the principles we’re supposed to stand for. It is time to see some Senate Democrats willing to take on their own president, but right now they’re putting partisan politics ahead of principle and that’s why they’re filibustering the funding for Homeland Security,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, in a separate interview on CNN, said the long-running uncertainty over his department’s budget has limited its ability to fulfill its mission.
If the funding runs out, most border security and transportation security officials would be required to work without pay. The department also would need to furlough 80 percent of the workforce for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Johnson warned.
“This is not a situation to make light of,” he said. “In these challenging times, we need a fully funded Department of Homeland Security right now.”
Democrats have echoed Johnson’s call for a so-called clean funding bill — one that would provide the money without any immigration provisions. Congress is scheduled to be in session for just two weeks before the deadline.
Asked Thursday if he knew what the Senate’s endgame was on the measure, Boehner bluntly replied: “No.”
“Listen, he’s got a tough job,” Boehner said, referring to McConnell. “God bless him and good luck.”
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr