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As Lawmakers Squabble, US Braces for Security Funding Lapse

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate speaks in Washington in support of legislation, being considered by some Republicans in Congress, that would prevent a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, Feb. 26, 2015.

Lawmakers from both major parties held news conferences Thursday to publicly trade blame for the impasse over immigration that got them into another down-to-the-wire budget battle, this time over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

House Speaker John Boehner refused to say what he would do next if the Senate sent over a bill without the provisions to block the president’s executive action on immigration.

“I just think it is outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president,” the Ohio Republican said.

Most Democrats strongly favor the executive action, announced late last year by the president, which would shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and let them apply for work permits and legal status. Most Republicans oppose the action, saying the president is overstepping his authority.

House and Senate Democrats want House Republicans to separate the immigration issue from DHS funding. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Republicans’ intransigence is harmful to U.S. national security.

“It is about time for them to grow up and pass this bill,” the California Democrat said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said it is crazy to even consider shutting off security funding at a time of heightened terror alerts.

“American people are frightened and rightfully so," he said. "ISIS [Islamic State] appears to have money, terrorists appear to have money — why shouldn’t our homeland have the ability to protect itself?”

Behind the scenes, some Republican lawmakers said they are working on short-term funding bills as a way to avert a shutdown.

If Congress fails to pass a spending bill, some 30,000 Homeland Security employees, mostly administrative staff, will be furloughed. Some 240,000 other DHS employees, however, would have to report to work without getting paid because they are deemed essential to U.S. national security.

The Department of Homeland Security encompasses airport screeners, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Border Patrol agents and Secret Service agents who protect the president and his family, among other employees.

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