CAPITOL HILL —
The U.S. Congress has narrowly averted a partial shutdown of domestic security agencies by approving a one-week funding extension for the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS. The department’s spending authority was to expire at midnight Friday. The stopgap measure postpones a final reckoning in a raucous partisan battle over President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
For weeks, Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, have sought to fund DHS but prevent the president from shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Such a measure repeatedly was blocked by minority Senate Democrats, who insisted on funding DHS without stipulations.
The stalemate threatened to go past midnight Washington time, when tens of thousands of federal workers involved in airport screening, border security, emergency preparedness, and presidential security would have been furloughed or required to work without pay.
In the end, Congress did what it often does. It postponed a final decision. First, the House tried and failed to pass a three-week DHS funding extension.
Rep. Walter B. Jones holds up a copy of the Constitution while talking to reporters as House Republicans emerge from a closed-door meeting on how to deal with the impasse over the Homeland Security budget, Feb. 26, 2015.
Then, as DHS released its plan for dealing with the looming shutdown and the president consulted with his national security team, the Senate passed a one-week funding extension.
The House followed suit shortly thereafter, and the crisis was averted -- for now.
No U.S. lawmaker wants to see DHS cut off from funds. Republicans like Representative John Carter say their only goal is to stop President Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration.
“A majority of American citizens oppose the president’s actions on immigration, and have asked us to fight those actions. We must stand up against the administration’s overreach on immigration -- to provide those checks and balances our Founding Fathers put in place to ensure the president does not act like a king,” he said.
But policy differences with the White House do not justify holding up domestic security funding, according to Democrats like Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
“The number-one responsibility of any member of Congress is to defend the American people. And we do not do that by punting [abdicating] our responsibility to fund homeland security. Period. You all need to stop playing games with the safety of the American people.”
It is unclear what, if anything, might change politically in Washington between now and the next funding deadline in a week’s time. One potential new development could come from the judiciary. A federal judge recently put Obama’s executive action on hold, and that decision will be reviewed by a higher court.
For now, Republican lawmakers appear split between hardline conservatives determined to register their opposition to the president’s immigration moves at all costs, and those who see the battle over DHS funding as a lost cause. Democrats, meanwhile, say Republicans have failed their first major test in leading the new Congress.