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House and Senate Prepare Measures to Keep Homeland Security Funded

26 Feb

Just a day before the Department of Homeland Security is set to run out of money, the Senate was preparing a bill that would finance the department without restrictions on President Obama’s immigration actions. House Republicans were coming together on a counterproposal that would provide the agency with funds for only three weeks.

The Senate is expected to vote Friday on its bill, which would provide the department with financing for the rest of the fiscal year, through September. The House is expected to reject that measure, increasing the prospect that a partial shutdown of the department would be averted only through the shorter-term funding accord that the House is expected to propose.

Speaker John A. Boehner and the Republican leadership team spent much of the day struggling to find a way to provide money for the department while also expressing their displeasure with Mr. Obama’s immigration actions.

Some Republicans, though, said it was time for Mr. Boehner and his conference to accept the reality that they needed to approve financing for the department and delay the immigration fight with Mr. Obama.

“As a governing party, we’ve got to fund D.H.S. and say to the House, ‘Here’s a straw so you can suck it up,’ ” said Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois. “This battle should be the end of the strategy of attaching whatever you’re upset at the president to a vital piece of government.”

Emerging from a private meeting on Thursday evening, House Republicans rejected the Senate’s expected offer, saying instead that they were prepared to vote Friday on the short-term measure to finance the agency. The hope, Republican lawmakers said, is that they would be able to use that time to enter into joint negotiations over a broader immigration bill that would halt Mr. Obama’s recent executive actions.

“It gives us a chance to continue our defense of the Constitution,” said Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas.

But as House Republicans were filing out of their meeting, the office of Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the minority leader, had already sent out an email making it clear that Senate Democrats would not agree to any joint House-Senate negotiations over the financing bill.

The Republican plan simply pushes the fight into next month. It creates the very situation that Republicans had hoped to avoid after the November elections, when they took over the Senate and increased their margin in the House: lurching from crisis to crisis, with little to show in the form of major legislation.

“It says a lot about the party,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. “It means trouble. How many times can we go over the cliff and survive?”

Democrats have said they oppose a short-term financing measure, though some might support one in order to avoid shutting down the department. But the House Democratic leadership is actively campaigning against the bill.

The House passed a bill last month that would have financed Homeland Security, though it included amendments that would gut legal protections that Mr. Obama’s actions would provide for as many as five million illegal immigrants, including those brought into the country as children.

After failing four times to overcome Democratic opposition and take up the House bill, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, offered a two-step path this week to keep the agency open: one vote on a bill that deals solely with department funding and a second vote on a proposal by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to halt the president’s immigration actions. The Senate will begin voting on those measures on Friday. Senate Democrats have said they will allow a debate and vote on the Collins plan, but only after the agency is financed.

The short-term House proposal reflects the pressure Mr. Boehner is facing from his more conservative members. They want to use the financing bill to fight what they say is Mr. Obama’s executive overreach on immigration. Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, said that his Senate counterparts had put the “surrender caucus” in charge of the chamber, ultimately leaving Mr. Reid in a position of strength.

Until Wednesday, Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell had not spoken in two weeks. Asked to describe his relationship with Mr. McConnell, Mr. Boehner acknowledged that they had sometimes had “differences.”

“We have two different institutions that don’t have the same body temperature every day,” he said. “You know, the House, by nature and by design, is a hell of a lot more rambunctious place than the Senate — much more.”

Democrats said that recent terrorist episodes added urgency to the need to keep the department functioning seamlessly. “ISIS appears to have money, terrorists appear to have money, why shouldn’t our homeland have the ability to protect itself?” asked Mr. Reid, referring to the terrorist group that is also known as the Islamic State. “This is like living in a world of crazy people.”

But for all the uncertainty over funding the agency, at least one truth was clear: No path forward will be easy. Walking out of the House Republican conference meeting Thursday evening, a reporter asked Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, just why he thought the Republican plan would prevail, as Senate Democrats have made it clear that they will not accept anything short of a “clean” funding bill.

Several of Mr. Rogers’s colleagues came to his rescue. They began shouting his name — “Hal! Hal!” — and pulled him into a jam-packed elevator just as the doors were closing.