Just three months after incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell vowed “There will be no government shutdowns,” the Republican-controlled Congress is getting awfully close to a partial government shutdown. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out on February 27, and the House has passed a funding bill that guts President Obama’s executive action on immigration. That version of the bill can’t get through the Senate (not to mention a presidential veto), but House Speaker John Boehner says that’s not his problem. “If the Senate doesn’t like it, they’ll have to produce something that fits their institution … The House has acted. We’ve done our job,” Boehner said on Fox News Sunday. “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. And it’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”
When pressed on whether he’d actually let DHS funding expire, Boehner said, “Certainly. The House has acted.”
Senate Democrats used procedural maneuvers to block the bill three times last week, and they want the House to produce a “clean” funding bill, without the measures to block Obama’s immigration action. Republicans don’t have the votes to break a Democratic filibuster, and last week moderate Senate Republicans, including McConnell, called on the House to pass new legislation. “We cannot cut funding from the Department of Homeland Security,” Senator John McCain said on Meet the Press. “We can work this out … You cannot shut down the government. It’s too serious.”
To make matters worse, Congress is in recess this week and will only have four days to resolve the issue at the end of the month. “With every House Democrat now cosponsoring clean legislation to fund DHS, it is clear that the votes are present to pass a bill now if only Speaker Boehner would get out of the way,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, adding, “Speaker Boehner made it clear that he has no plan to avoid a government shutdown that would threaten the safety of the American people.”
A DHS shutdown wouldn’t actually affect airport screenings, Coast Guard patrols, or even the processing of applications from immigrants applying for deportation deferments. About 85 percent of Homeland Security employees are considered essential, according to NBC News, so in the event of a shutdown they’ll stay on the job, albeit without pay. Still, defending the department would cause disruptions in law enforcement training, the E-Verify system that lets businesses check new hires’ immigration status, and grants to first responders around the country — plus, Republicans don’t want to send the message that they can’t manage to keep the government fully funded, even when they control Congress.