Short-term DHS spending bill more likely

The Washington Examiner — With House and Senate lawmakers running out of time to pass a Department of Homeland Security spending bill, it is becoming more likely Congress will have to resort to another short-term funding measure.

Time for passing a DHS spending bill is running short. Congress will not be in session next week, and a temporary funding bill that is keeping the department operating will run out on Feb. 27.

That means that unless Congress comes up with a deal now, lawmakers will have a matter of days to pass legislation when they return on Feb. 23.

“It’s not preferable but I think it might be a reality,” one GOP aide said when asked by theWashington Examiner about passing a short-term DHS bill.

Negotiations between the two parties on a long-term deal appear to be going nowhere.

Senate Republican leaders Monday signaled they will make a fourth attempt to advance a House-passed, $40 billion DHS spending measure that would fund the agency through the end of the fiscal year. But Democrats have already blocked the measure three times and are all but guaranteed to do so again. They object to provisions in the bill that would defund President Obama’s executive actions granting millions of illegal immigrants the right to obtain work permits and some federal benefits.

Some Republicans scoffed at the idea of passing a short-term DHS bill if no deal is reached, and said the GOP leadership was united around the House-passed version.

Neither House nor Senate Republican lawmakers have publicly disclosed a “Plan B” that could win over Democratic votes and say they aren’t going to produce one anytime soon.

“The policy, politics, polling and people are all on the GOP’s side,” a Senate GOP aide told theExaminer. “The Democrats’ position is not sustainable. They are the ones who need a Plan B.”

But Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have been publicly adamant that they do not intend to let DHS funding run out, particularly with an increased threat of terrorism in the United States stemming from the overseas spread of Islamic terrorist groups.

The department is responsible for a broad array of national security operations, including airport screening, federal building protection and border enforcement.

Republicans are also keenly aware that the public tends to blame their party for spending showdowns that threaten government operations, so it’s unlikely Feb. 27 will pass without at least a stopgap measure on the floor for a vote.

Such a bill would not include the language blocking Obama’s executive actions, but it would buy the GOP time to come up with longer-term DHS spending legislation that would force Democrats to take difficult votes on variations of the House-passed bill.

As of Monday, the two parties were digging in on their respective sides of the Senate aisle.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Republicans are threatening America’s safety from terrorism, cybersecurity risks and other threats, even though it is the Democrats who have blocked debate on the funding bill.

“Republicans are hell-bent with playing chicken with our national security,” Reid said.

Democrats are already showing opposition to the idea of a temporary funding measure, even though it would exclude language defunding Obama’s executive actions.

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said a stopgap measure leaves DHS funding levels too low because they would be left at last year’s level. Most agencies end up getting a boost in spending from one year to the next. The department is currently operating under a short-term spending measure that Congress passed in December.

“We are not allowed to fund new initiatives for border security, for example, new initiatives to hire more Secret Service agents for the coming presidential election cycle, new initiatives to fund grants,” Johnson said on CNN.

Republicans are engaging in their own PR campaign, trying to step up pressure on the Democrats to vote for the DHS bill that includes the language blocking Obama’s executive actions.

Republicans say their legislation funds all of DHS except for the executive actions, which they believe are unconstitutional.

“We should not allow these modern age politicians to go to the American people with false stories about what is really happening,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Monday. “Democratic members of the Senate are blocking the bill that we would like to see come to the floor, that fully funds Homeland Security.”