WASHINGTON — The US House on Wednesday approved a homeland security spending bill with billions for defense firms — but it likely is DOA in the Senate.
In a mostly party-line vote, 236-191, House members approved a $39.7 billion Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that would give the agency funding to do operations, buy equipment and do a myriad of other things.
But they also tacked on several amendments targeting President Barack Obama's recent immigration action. The move was telegraphed late last week, drawing the ire of moderate Senate Democrats needed to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold in that chamber and prompting a veto threat from the White House.
The DHS-funding measure contains billions for defense sector-supplied Coast Guard hardware, like National Security Cutter ships, HC-130J aircraft acquisitions and maintenance, H-60 helicopter re-manufacturing, ands well as other programs.
Congressional aides and observers predict both chambers will pass a "clean" DHS appropriations bill before Feb. 27, when the post-9/11 agency's funding will run out.
But first, the Senate must act.
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, on Tuesday morning said House GOP leaders would be picking a fight with his members should they follow through with the plan to add amendments that would defund a number of immigration programs.
They did just that about 24 hours later.
"I will tell you this: If this bill comes over from the House of Representatives and this bill eliminates [the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program], puts 1.6 million young [people] into ... legal jeopardy of facing deportation and then eliminates the rights of their parents who have children who are citizens or legal residents to stay in this country," Durbin said on the chamber floor, "then we're going to see a fight on the floor of the United States Senate."
The House debated the DHS funding measure and its politically white-hot amendments for hours on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.
Late in the floor dramatics, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., roared "this bill is not about homeland security — it's about Republican political security."
Israel spoke passionately, listing some of the functions the bill would pay for, including cybersecurity programs. And he lobbied charges of playing politics at House GOP members and leaders.
"For the first time in history, they are holding our security hostage for the politics of immigration," Israel said, adding Democrats demand a clean Homeland Security bill be brought to a vote. "Homeland Security is the last thing in this Congress that should be subject to a political compromise,." Israel said sharply.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., summed up the frustrations that led both rank-and-file members and senior leaders in the GOP caucus to push the immigration amendments.
Gowdy called Obama's immigration action an unprecedented overreach by the executive branch.
Obama "has said repeatedly he is not a king," Gowdy said on the floor. "Well, his opinion might have changed, but the Constitution has not.
Gowdy described the immigration battle as "a fight over whether this branch of government will ever find the courage to stand up for itself."
The Senate is out Wednesday and Thursday for party retreats, but back on Friday to resume work on a contentious Keystone XL Pipeline bill. That work will stretch into next week.
The upper chamber is expected to next take up legislation on other matters, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to announce when a DHS-funding bill will hit the floor. He also has not made clear just what will be in his version.
Back in the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is not ruling out passing a clean spending bill.
"Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security," he told reporters Tuesday. "Our second goal is to stop the president's executive overreach."