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Stopgap Homeland Security spending bill fails in House

David Espo
Associated Press

Washington — On a day of high drama, the Republican-controlled Congress struggled into the night Friday to pass emergency legislation to keep the Homeland Security Department in full funding for one week and avert a partial shutdown threatened for midnight.

Acting without fanfare, the Senate cleared the measure less than four hours before the deadline that would have triggered a partial shutdown at the federal agency with anti-terrorism responsibilities.

That sent the bill to the House, where only a few hours earlier, 52 rebellious Republicans unexpectedly joined with Democrats to vote down a three-week funding bill. The vote was 224-203.

The House planned to vote Friday night on the one-week funding bill.

Conservatives were furious that the leadership had dropped provisions repealing Obama administration directives that shield immigrants from deportation. Democrats demanded longer-term funding as their price for passage.

“You have made a mess,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said accusingly to Republicans as the earlier extension vote neared.

In the aftermath, even some Republicans agreed.

“There are terrorist attacks all over world and we’re talking about closing down Homeland Security. This is like living in world of crazy people,” tweeted Rep. Peter King of New York, a former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

The debacle in the House set a chain of events in motion.

First, Homeland Security officials circulated a lengthy contingency plan indicating that about 30,000 employees could expect to be furloughed without passage of funding legislation.

Then the White House announced President Barack Obama had spoken with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Moments later, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky strode onto the Senate floor and swiftly gained approval for the seven-day measure.

Much of the department was to remain open, at least temporarily, even if funding expired at midnight. Airport security checkpoints would remain staffed, immigration agents would be on the job, air marshals would do their work and Coast Guard patrols would sail on. Of the department’s 230,000 employees, an estimated 200,000 would remain at work, either because they were deemed essential or because their pay comes from fees that are unaffected by congressional spending disputes.

Democrats said Republicans were playing politics with border security for the agency that includes the Secret Service, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration.

Before the late night Senate vote, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said an extension of the short-term funding would hurt Michigan.

“We have Coast Guard equipment that’s on hold, we have emergency responder communications equipment — a whole list of things — nuclear detection equipment on hold,” Stabenow said. “It is effectively a first-responder shutdown.”

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said earlier Friday he thought the short-term extension made sense.

“Hopefully we will be able to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation,” said Moolenar, a first-term congressman.

Tens of millions of dollars in security and disaster aid for Michigan are endangered, but the border is assured of remaining open in the event of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget impasse.

Federal security personnel at Detroit's tunnel, bridge and airport would still work and keep traffic moving.

There are about 4,600 department employees in Michigan.

It wasn’t clear what House Speaker John Boehner would next propose.

Taken together, the day’s roller-coaster events at the Capitol underscored the difficulty Republicans have had so far this year in translating last fall’s election gains into legislative accomplishment.

Detroit News Staff Writer David Shepardson contributed.

Mich. House votes

Michigan House lawmakers who voted against the Homeland Security 3-week spending bill were representatives Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids; and Democrats Sander Levin of Royal Oak, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Dale Kildee of Flint Township and John Conyers Jr. of Detroit.