WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional leaders scrambled on Thursday to figure out how to avert a partial shutdown of the U.S. domestic security agency, with some Republican lawmakers suggesting a stop-gap funding bill to buy time.
As the clock ticked toward a midnight Friday deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, the Senate was trying to move toward passing a “clean” funding bill that would exclude contentious immigration restrictions.
But House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, facing resistance from a fractious caucus of conservatives, offered no hint about whether he would permit a House vote on such a bill.
Several Republicans said a short-term extension of funding of a few weeks or less might be needed for the House and Senate, both Republican-controlled, to find a solution.
Conservative Representative Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, said short-term funding would “give the two sides of the Capitol time to negotiate and work out some kind of a strategy.”
The House has passed a $39.7 billion bill to pay for DHS operations but that measure blocks funding for Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive order last year lifting the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Senate Democratic and Republican leaders reached a tentative deal on Wednesday to vote on a spending bill without the House restrictions, although it was unclear when the vote would occur. Senate leaders were trying to get agreement from all 100 members to allow a quick vote.
“The House has done its work. When the Senate does its work, we’ll let you know how we will proceed,” Boehner told reporters.
The DHS spearheads domestic counter terrorism efforts and secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters.
If the dispute is not resolved by Friday at midnight, spending authority will be cut off for the agency that secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters. The agency would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or about 15 percent of its workforce. Nearly 200,000 workers, including airport and border security agents and Coast Guard personnel would stay on the job, but would not be paid until new funding is approved.
Senate Democrats have blocked debate on the House-passed bill four times, and Obama has threatened to veto any bill that includes the immigration restrictions.
Democratic leader Harry Reid said the Senate would not accept any changes and called any effort to add the restrictions “a waste of time.”
“We are not going to be part of their petty games,” Reid told reporters. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi called the Republican battle over security funding “a comedy of errors that has been going on; this major amateur hour.”
Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool