Impasse in Senate on Homeland budget bill as shutdown looms
WASHINGTON (AP) A partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department loomed at week's end, but no solution was in sight as senators returned to the Capitol from a week-long recess Monday to confront an impasse over the issue.
An evening vote was set to advance legislation to fund the agency, but senators already have cast three previous such votes and the result Monday was expected to be the same. Senate Democrats were likely to block consideration of the House-passed bill because it includes provisions overturning President Barack Obama's executive actions limiting deportations for millions of immigrants in the United States illegally.
A federal judge's ruling last week that put Obama's immigration program on hold increased calls from a few Republican senators to pass a "clean" Homeland Security Bill without the contested language on immigration.
"I hope my House colleagues will understand that our best bet is to challenge this in court, that if we don't fund the Department of Homeland Security, we'll get blamed as a party," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
But House Republicans said they had no plans to revisit the issue after passing a $39.7 billion bill last month that funds the department through Sept. 30, the end of the current budget year, while also undoing Obama's actions on immigration.
"The House has acted to fund the Homeland Security Department," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "Now it's time for Senate Democrats to stop blocking legislation that would do the same."
A short-term extension of current funding levels remained possible, but lawmakers had only a few days to come up with even that partial solution before the agency's funding expires Friday at midnight.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon to repeat his warnings about the harmful impacts of shutting down his agency, which would result in some 30,000 administrative and other workers getting furloughed. Some 200,000 others would fall into essential categories and stay on the job, though mostly without drawing a paycheck until the situation is resolved.
Johnson said the furloughs could harm the U.S. response to terrorist threats and warnings, such as the one late Saturday on Minnesota's Mall of America. Some 80 percent of Federal Emergency Management Agency workers would be furloughed even as that agency contends with two months of devastating snowfall and cold from New England to the Mountain States.
"If we are going to shut down, we are greatly compromised," Johnson said during a weekend briefing at the National Governors Association, an annual gathering attended by dozens of the nation's governors.
But some Republicans have argued that because the large majority of agency staff would keep working, albeit without getting paid, the harmful impacts of a shutdown were being exaggerated.
Associated Press writers Stephen Braun and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.