WASHINGTON — Congress finally gave the Department of Homeland Security its due yesterday, funding the crucial US agency after months of political wrangling that threatened to plunge it into shutdown.
With the House voting 257 to 167 to approve finances for DHS through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, the US$39.7 billion bill – passed last week by the Senate without controversial immigration riders attached – headed to President Barack Obama for his signature.
"To make sure the Americans who protect our country and our people have the resources they need to get the job done, I will sign this bill into law as soon as I receive it," Obama said.
It marked a dramatic turn of events on Capitol Hill, where Republicans had sought to tie the funding with efforts to repeal Obama's immigration directives, which caused a political furor when he unveiled them over Republican objections in November.
Obama's Democrats had insisted on keeping the two issues separate, and after several political clashes nearly turned the money spigot off for DHS, congressional leaders finally called a truce.
House Speaker John Boehner told Republicans in a caucus meeting that he would allow a vote on the clean bill, overriding conservative efforts to stop Obama's immigration plan and effectively ending the congressional battle that had threatened to shut down an agency designed to protect Americans.
"As you've heard me say a number of times, the House has done its job by passing legislation to fund DHS and block the president's executive actions on immigration," Boehner told rank-and-file Republicans, according to a person in the room.
"Unfortunately, the fight was never won in the other chamber."
Terror threat loomed?
Boehner invoked the threat of terrorism as a rationale for arguing that pushing the agency into shutdown would be a mistake.
"With more active threats coming into the homeland, I don't believe that's an option," he said, according to a source.
"Imagine if, God forbid, another terrorist attack hits the United States." Boehner had been under intense pressure from a small band of far-right conservatives to stand firm and insist on linking the two issues.
Tuesday saw more than two-thirds of Republicans vote against the clean bill, but the measure made it over the finish line with unanimous support from all Democrats present.
Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid applauded the House of Representatives for bringing the "unnecessary showdown" to an end.
"Common ground should be something we seek, not run away from – especially when the security of our nation is at stake," he said.
The House passed a measure attaching the immigration rollback to DHS funding, but Democrats blocked it repeatedly in the Senate.
Congress needed to fund DHS by Friday or the agency would have run out of money, although in the event of a shutdown, most border personnel, airport screeners and Secret Service agents would remain on the job without pay.
Lawmakers are expected to separately begin debate on the immigration directives in the coming weeks. — AFP