What happens, and does not, in Homeland shutdown

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2015 10:12 AM
What happens, and does not, in Homeland shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — A look at expected consequences if lawmakers don't solve the budget impasse that could shut parts of the Homeland Security Department at midnight Friday night:

NOT SO DIRE

There's plenty of overheated rhetoric from the administration and its allies in Congress about the U.S. letting down its guard against security threats. In reality, America's defenses would not be relaxed even in a partial shutdown.

Front-line employees at agencies such as Customs and Border Patrol, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration would continue to report to work. Airport security checkpoints would remain staffed, immigration agents would be on the job, air marshals would do their work and Coast Guard patrols would sail on.

Of the department's 230,000 employees, some 200,000 would continue to report to work because they are deemed essential.

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BUT NOT PAINLESS, EITHER

Most of the department's workers, whether idled or still on the job, would not get paid until the dispute is resolved.

Hiring and much training would stop, as would research and development work on projects such as cargo screening technologies. People responsible for operating and maintaining the voluntary E-Verify system, which allows businesses to check the immigration status of new hires, would be furloughed.

Governors, mayors and other local officials might feel the pinch from the furloughing of officials who manage emergency preparedness and response grants. A prolonged interruption could force communities to lay off workers whose employment depends on these grants.

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ROOTS OF THE DISPUTE

It's all about President Barack Obama's unilateral actions on immigration and the Republican response to that. And it's about the new GOP majority in both chambers testing its wings.

Rather than hold up the government's larger budget, Republicans decided to zero in on Homeland Security because it looks after immigration enforcement. This produced GOP legislation that would pay for the department's operations on the condition that Obama's actions — protecting millions of people in the country illegally from being deported — be revoked. And now it's produced the standoff.

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SYMBOLISM AT WORK

As with so much else in Washington, the targeting of Homeland Security as a way to get at immigration policy is largely symbolic.

That's because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services operations are paid for by fees, and programs paid by fees instead of budget appropriations continue to operate despite any government shutdown.

Moreover, most of Obama's actions are temporarily suspended by a federal judge. The Obama administration is appealing the judge's ruling. If the ruling it set aside, the executive actions resume no matter the budget turmoil.

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POSSIBLE END GAMES

Whatever happens, it would be completely unlike Washington to solve this before the last minute or even a bit beyond. Twelfth-hour brinkmanship is thought to yield the most concessions.

—The standoff could trigger the partial shutdown as the agency's annual appropriations expire.

—Republicans could back down on their gambit by moving ahead with separate pieces of legislation, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is now favoring. One would finance the department and let it carry on. The other would be specific to the immigration provisions — in effect, letting Republicans vent, even while setting up Obama's veto should it pass Congress.

—Lawmakers could pass a bill temporarily financing the department.

Many Republicans don't like that idea. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson doesn't like it, either. "It's like trying to drive across country on no more than five miles (worth) of gas at a time and you don't know when the next gas station is going to appear," he said.