Tags: McConnell | Boehner | Obama | DHS | funding

Big Test for Senate's McConnell as Homeland Funding Set to Lapse

Friday, 20 February 2015 05:28 PM

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will have his first big test as U.S. Senate majority leader next week as funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to lapse Feb. 27, triggering a shutdown of some of the agency’s operations unless Congress acts.

McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have been trying to advance an agency funding measure that would force President Barack Obama to reverse his orders easing deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Aside from backing down on their demand, or allowing funding to expire, there’s a third option under consideration that could take pressure off McConnell and Boehner of Ohio. Lawmakers may vote on 30-day funding for the agency, according to a congressional aide who didn’t want to be identified because talks are continuing.

The congressional debate will focus attention on Obama’s directives on immigration that would ease deportation for about 5 million undocumented immigrants including those brought to the U.S. as children. A Texas judge’s order this week forced the White House to delay carrying out its immigration orders.

The issue may reverberate in the 2016 presidential election campaign as Democrats and Republicans vie for support from Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the U.S. population and carry increasing influence in national elections.

The short-term funding legislation would allow a White House appeal of the judge’s decision to play out. The Justice Department plans to seek a stay of the order, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday.

“If the appeals court reverses the lower court judge, Republican leaders will likely turn to their colleagues and say: There’s nothing we can do,” said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist. “If it upholds the lower court judge, then everybody does a happy dance. Either way, the Republican leadership may be off the hook.”

On Monday, McConnell will try for a fourth time to advance a House-passed funding bill that would force Obama to abandon the immigration action he announced in November, after the election in which Republicans won majority control of the Senate and House.

Democrats have already blocked the measure three times, and they’re expected to do so again. Their position is that Congress should fund the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for immigration and border enforcement, without limits on immigration policy.

“Republicans are fully in charge of Congress, and amid very real terrorist threats, they should pass a clean bill to fully fund our Homeland Security, free of controversial policy riders,” said Sarah Feldman, a spokeswoman for Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who has been critical of the president’s policy.

McConnell needs at least six Democrats to get the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. If the bill doesn’t move forward, Republican leaders must decide whether to give up their fight, something that would spark intense criticism from conservative lawmakers in Congress and from Republican activists attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington Feb. 25-28.

While this is McConnell’s biggest test since becoming majority leader last month, it is another tough decision for Boehner. He has been at the center of funding battles since Republicans took control of the House in 2010, including a drive by Tea Party-backed members to defund Obamacare that led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October 2013.

If Boehner agrees to pass a bill without the language, he would face criticism from party members after repeatedly vowing to use the funding bill to confront Obama’s orders.

Still, allowing funding for the department to temporarily lapse would be a gamble as the public blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the October 2013 impasse, as congressional approval ratings plummeted.

During that shutdown, many DHS employees remained on the job because they’re considered essential and required to work even if funding lapses. That includes active Coast Guard members, customs officers, immigration law enforcement officers and airport-screening officials.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that about 10 percent, or 5,500 workers, in the Transportation Security Administration’s workforce would be furloughed. Those workers mainly serve management and administrative roles. It doesn’t include law-enforcement officers serving in the Federal Air Marshal Service, who are exempt.

About 80 percent of the staff of the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be furloughed if funding lapses, according to DHS estimates. In the October 2013 shutdown, 86 percent of FEMA’s permanent workforce, about 4,000 employees, were furloughed.

Other DHS programs are funded by fees rather than congressional appropriations so they wouldn’t be affected by a DHS shutdown.

The federal government is legally obligated to pay anyone who works. Yet during the last shutdown, about one-third of the government’s 3 million staffers who reported for duty weren’t paid until after the shutdown ended.

Even those who are furloughed are often paid. Congress voted to retroactively give them back pay in the 2013 shutdown.

Earnest said Friday that airport screening agents wouldn’t be paid on time.

A lapse would “erode employee morale and cause unnecessary anxiety for front-line personnel and their families,” according to an e-mailed statement from Marsha Catron, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.

© Copyright 2019 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will have his first big test as U.S. Senate majority leader next week as funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to lapse Feb. 27, triggering a shutdown of some of the agency's operations unless Congress acts.McConnell and House...
McConnell, Boehner, Obama, DHS, funding
Friday, 20 February 2015 05:28 PM
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