Congress must plot next move on Homeland Security spending

The Washington Examiner — With one month remaining before a Department of Homeland Security funding bill expires, senators this week are expected to begin huddling over the fate of House-passed legislation that extends the department’s spending while also curbing President Obama’s executive actions benefiting illegal immigrants.

It’s legislation that could ultimately provoke a major internal GOP battle over how far Republicans should take the fight to defund what they are calling the president’s “executive amnesty.”

While many Republicans want to avoid a showdown over spending, the GOP’s conservative faction doesn’t want the party to back down.

“That is why we always lose,” Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, said at a gathering of House conservatives last week. “When you send a message that you are not willing to fight.”

The new GOP-led Senate majority will likely put the DHS spending bill on the floor for a vote at some point in the coming weeks.

It easily passed the House earlier this month and has broad GOP support in the Senate, where Republicans control 54 votes.

But the measure won’t ever become law.

Senate Democrats oppose the bill and have enough votes to filibuster. President Obama said he’ll veto the measure if it ever clears the Senate and makes it to his desk.

The bill provides $40 billion in funding for DHS but includes a provision that would reverse Obama’s November directive allowing millions of illegal immigrants to apply for work permits and some federal benefits.

The bill includes additional language that would end Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. Obama implemented DACA in 2012 using his executive authority. It allows people who arrived here as children to avoid deportation and work legally in the United States.

“My first choice is to try and pass the bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, when asked about the measure.

The GOP leadership can’t simply walk away if the legislation dies.

A temporary funding measure that has kept DHS operating is set to expire Feb. 27.

If the current DHS funding bill doesn’t become law, Republicans will have to draft another spending bill that can win the approval of Obama and the Democrats.

Or, they could simply refuse to budge, and become embroiled in a showdown over government spending, which in the past has backfired politically on the GOP.

Republican leaders have already pledged to avoid a shutdown fight, and Homeland Security is a critical department. It oversees airport screening and the border patrol, as well as interior enforcement of immigration laws, among other things.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he has not given up on winning over the six Democrats needed to pass the House spending measure in the Senate.

“You usually don’t know for sure where these fights wind up until you have them,” Blunt told theWashington Examiner. “And this is an important one for us to have. We need to have this fight, and then we’ll see where it goes.”

Unless a spending measure passes the Senate, it will head back to the House, where all spending bills must originate under the rules that govern Congress.

Republican leaders have not begun strategizing what to do next, GOP aides said.

“Given that we don’t know what the Senate can and will do, it’s difficult to make any plans,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Examiner. “At this point, the House has passed a bill. We’ll wait for the Senate to act.”

The House is not waiting to move ahead on other initiatives aimed at stemming the flow of illegal migrants, however. It is expected to begin consideration of a Republican-authored border security bill this week.

The legislation would give the Department of Homeland Security a two-year deadline to stop all illegal immigrants from crossing critical parts of the southwestern U.S. border and a five-year deadline to secure all of the border.

The bill also calls for completion of the southern border fence by filling in and completing miles of existing gaps and constructing dozens of miles of new fencing. It would also allow border patrol agents access to restricted federal lands that are used by illegal immigrants to cross into the country. And it would require implementing new biometric identity security measures at all points of entry into the United States within five years.

The legislation was approved by the House Homeland Security Committee last week with all Republicans voting in favor of it, but some conservatives say the bill falls short by ignoring interior enforcement problems and Obama’s executive actions to stem deportations.

“My fear is, and others share it, that this is going to be a placebo to do nothing about executive amnesty,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, told the Examiner.

Republican leadership aides deny they are using this approach, telling the Examiner the DHS spending bill and border security bill are on separate tracks.

But GOP leaders are not committing to how far they will take their pledge to curb Obama’s immigration moves.

“Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” Boehner said when asked how far he would take the fight. “Our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach.”