Rep. Peter King (R-NY) may have best described the deadlock over a vital $40 billion Homeland Security spending bill by calling it “like living in the world of the crazy people.”
“People think we’re crazy,” King, a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told The New York Times. “There are terrorist attacks all over the world, and we’re talking about closing down Homeland Security.”
Americans have been relentlessly bombarded with news about ISIS terrorist attacks, kidnappings and mass beheadings in the Middle East; homegrown terrorist attacks in Europe, Canada and Australia; threats to U.S. shopping centers; the arrest on Wednesday of three young Brooklyn men charged with plotting to travel thousands of miles to fight for ISIS.
Yet Congress is incapable of passing a long overdue spending bill to keep the nation’s Homeland Security Department fully functioning and at the top of its game.
Just when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his Democratic allies forged a deal to sidestep a partisan battle over the president’s immigration policies and permanently fund DHS, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) flinched under pressure from arch conservative activists.
Instead of trying to work out a compromise that would put the DHS funding controversy behind them, House Republicans are getting ready to punt again. They may end up passing one or more short-term spending measures to prolong their agony for another two or three weeks.
Boehner and other leaders conferred with rank-and-file Republicans late yesterday afternoon to try to gauge support for a variety of continuing resolutions. This would somehow keep their efforts alive to block the president’s executive orders protecting many illegal immigrant s from the threat of deportation.
From all signs, Congress will find a way to avert a partial shutdown this weekend of DHS. The department includes the Secret Service, customs, immigration services, border patrol, and other critical enforcement agencies.
Even if the two chambers and the White House, however, can agree on a short-term solution, most of the 240,000 DHS employees will continue to operate under uncertainty.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who represents a large number of federal employees in suburban Maryland, said that morale in the department – already very low – could hit rock bottom if the House continues to mess around with the department’s stability, he told MSNBC.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), a sharp critic of Obama’s immigration reforms, said Congress has no choice but to pass a “clean” DHS spending bill, and “not for any political reason.”
“I’m just saying that all of us – Democrats and Republicans – believe that securing our homeland is the first and foremost thing we must do,” he said.
Even Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the most vocal opponent of Obama’s immigration executive orders, told reporters yesterday he would not stand in the way of passage of the compromise spending measure.
Senate Republicans and Democrats voted 98 to 2 on Wednesday to decouple efforts to block implementation of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration from fully funding DHS.
By sometime today, the Senate will approve a clean spending bill to keep the department operating through Sept. 30. It will then vote separately on a measure sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would block implementation of the executive orders.
However, Boehner has offered no clue as to when – or if – he would bring the compromise Senate bill to the floor. Instead, House Appropriations Committee officials began drafting stopgap-spending measures to keep the department operating for another week or two while Boehner seeks consensus among his troops.
“We passed a bill to fund the department six weeks ago. Six weeks ago!” Boehner said at a press conference yesterday. “It's time for the Senate to act. How many times do I have to say it?”
The speaker wouldn’t say whether he’d back a Senate funding bill without provisions that would defund Obama's executive actions on immigration. During one bizarre moment, Boehner scrunched up his mouth and blew kisses at reporters who doggedly questioned him about his intentions.
Such legislation would likely win approval in the House, but only with the votes of Democrats, according to a survey of members by The Hill. However, the Senate plan would sharply divide Republicans. Many of them refuse to back down from a fight with Obama over his immigration policy – even while a federal court ruling in Texas last week is holding implementation of the policies in abeyance.
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), a Tea Party favorite and co-founder of the new conservative Freedom Caucus, told The Hill he didn’t think a continuing resolution could get through the House.
"Why would we punt if we don't have a plan?" he said.
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