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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

 5:31 PM 

Column: New Congress, old showdowns

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Not even two months into their stewardship of Congress, Republicans are already playing a game of fiscal chicken with President Obama that could shutter the Department of Homeland Security by week's end.

Republicans, furious over Obama's November executive order on immigration, refused in December to include DHS in a package funding the federal government for fiscal 2015. Democrats had to settle for a two-month extension of the department's spending authority. Conservative Republicans hoped that once the GOP assumed control of Congress in January, it could force Obama to back away from his orders that halt deportation of some undocumented immigrants by holding the Homeland Security funding over Democrats' heads.

Although Republicans are pursuing a course Sen. Ron Johnson advocated even before winning the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's chairmanship--effectively reversing Obama's executive immigration orders by denying the programs' funding--the Oshkosh Republican is now espousing a less confrontational tact as Friday's midnight deadline rapidly approaches.

"Responsible members of both parties must work together to find some way to fund DHS without further delay," Johnson said Monday. "I will work to make certain the Department of Homeland Security is operating at full strength during these dangerous times."

The House already approved a spending bill that blocks implementation of Obama's orders. Senate Democrats filibustered that legislation for the fourth time on Monday, saying they would continue doing so until Republicans stripped the provision. Johnson, echoing GOP leaders, blamed Democrats for the impasse.

"Democratic senators are currently blocking a DHS funding bill from coming to the floor of the Senate to be debated, possibly amended and voted up or down," he stated.

It is unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would bring a "clean" bill to the floor. And even if he did, it is even less clear whether House Republicans would accept it. Whether Republicans are willing to back down now that a federal court is temporarily preventing the administration from implementing Obama's deferred deportation programs is also uncertain.

Johnson's statement seemed to imply that Republicans won the legal battle and can now drop the contentious provisions.

"Fortunately, [DHS] Secretary [Jeh] Johnson has agreed that his department will be bound by court decisions," Johnson stated. "This means, and I expect, that DHS should immediately suspend all actions designed to implement these unlawful programs."

For her part, Sen. Tammy Baldwin is using her Twitter account to pound the administration's message that if Congress allows DHS to shut down, Republicans are to blame.

"Solution to stopping a Homeland Security shutdown is simple: ‪#FundDHS with a clean bill. Stop playing politics & ‪#DontShutDownOurSecurity," the Madison Democrat tweeted Monday.

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, voiced many of his colleagues' frustration with the Senate's procedural hurdles when he began urging senators back on Feb. 6 to act.

"While I understand the need for the Senate to have 60 votes to proceed, the responsible thing for the Senate to do is to pass...something, regardless of whether or not it matches that of the House," Ribble stated then. He continued to press senators Monday, tweeting: "‪#DHS‪ funding expires in a week. The House has passed a bill to fully fund it. Senate must act."

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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