Senate nears security funding vote, Boehner mum on House plans

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 26, 2015 1:20 PM

By David Lawder and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With the clock ticking toward a midnight Friday deadline to avoid a partial shutdown of the U.S. domestic security agency, the Senate is moving toward passing a funding bill but the House of Representatives leader offered no hints of following suit.

The Republican-dominated House has passed a $39.7 billion bill to pay for Department of Homeland Security operations, but that measure blocks funding for Democratic President Barack Obama's executive order last year lifting the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders reached a tentative deal on Wednesday to vote on a spending bill without the House restrictions, although it was unclear when the vote would occur. Senate leaders were trying to get agreement from all 100 members to allow a quick vote.

"The House has done its work. When the Senate does its work, we'll let you know how we will proceed," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters.

Boehner is struggling to deal with a fractious caucus of House Republican conservatives, who say a "clean" funding bill without immigration restrictions would be a surrender to Obama.

The DHS spearheads domestic counter terrorism efforts and secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters.

Senate Democrats have blocked debate on the House-passed bill four times, and Obama has threatened to veto any bill that includes the immigration restrictions.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday the Senate would not accept any changes to a clean funding bill and called any effort to add the restrictions "a waste of time."

"We are not going to be part of their petty games," Reid told reporters. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi called the Republican battle over security funding "a comedy of errors that has been going on; this major amateur hour."

If the dispute is not resolved by Friday at midnight, spending authority will be cut off the for the agency that secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters.

If that happens, it would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or 15 percent of its workforce. Essential personnel, such as airport and border security agents, would stay on the job, but would not be paid until new funding is approved.

Pelosi said the funding flap would interrupt activities ranging from hiring Secret Service agents to dealing with snow emergencies in the Northeast, and would suspend federal grants that help local governments pay for fire and other emergency response programs.

(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool)