Congress pursues funding to avert DHS shutdown

The U.S. Capitol building
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

The U.S. Congress on Friday appeared to be headed toward approving a three-week-long stopgap funding bill for the domestic security agency that postpones the threat of a partial shutdown, but moves lawmakers no closer to a permanent solution.

With only hours remaining before Department of Homeland Security funding expires at midnight, the House of Representatives was pursuing a short-term funding extension. It would give Republicans more time to agree on a way to keep the agency open over the long term, while still fighting Democratic President Barack Obama over his immigration order lifting the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented residents.

The House voted 240-183 along strict party lines to approve a procedural rule that will allow a vote on the short-term extension later in the day. The measure would then go to the Senate for expected approval on Friday afternoon.

The Senate on Friday followed a different path, approving a full-year $39.7-billion funding measure for Homeland Security that does excludes any of the restrictions on Obama's immigration order that House Republicans had been demanding.

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The House was expected to ignore the Senate legislation for now, leaving Republican congressional leaders to spend the next three weeks trying to reconcile their differences on ways to pursue their fight against Obama's immigration action, which has been put temporarily on hold by a federal judge.

Discord between the two chambers created a chaotic 48 hours before the Friday midnight deadline and the short-term extension offers only a brief respite from the brinkmanship.

Senate Democrats have blocked a House-passed bill that includes immigration restrictions four times. On Friday they rejected a stand-alone bill aimed at blocking Obama's immigration orders.

If the current funding is not extended by Friday at midnight, spending authority will be cut off for the agency that secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters. The agency would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or about 15 percent of its workforce.

Nearly 200,000 workers, including airport and border security agents and Coast Guard personnel would stay on the job, but would not be paid until new funding is approved.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday night warning them that the temporary three-week patch would mean more uncertainty for department employees "and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now."